At Least It’s Not…

Here’s a bit of good news to start the post. Today is Free Cone Day at Ben & Jerry’s. Swing by your local outlet this afternoon and have some ice cream. No local outlet? Temperatures still under 40F? Doesn’t matter. Have some ice cream anyway. Consider it a ritual invocation of better weather and a shield against thoughts of Tax Day tomorrow.

As it happens, I don’t have a convenient B&J, so I’ll be going to my local semi-independent ice cream store this evening. I’ll consume my cone as a sacrifice to the rain gods. Join me, won’t you?

Moving on to something less cheerful.

Ever hear of Mumford & Sons? They’ve been around since (quick Google search) 2007, and they have a unique sound. Imagine Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound crossed in an unholy hybrid with Martin Mull’s famous Fiddle and Banjo Crap. Now speed it up to 160 beats per minute. That’s M&S.

Did I say “have”? I should have said “had”. Their latest album totally abandons that sound, and I think it’s a major mistake.

Let me make one thing clear: I hate their original sound with a passion. There is nothing–NOTHING–that will make me turn off the radio faster than Little Lion Man. It’s become a family catchphrase. Stuck in traffic for an hour? Ice cream shop closed when we get there? “At least it’s not Mumford & Sons.”

But even so, I still think M&S’s change is a mistake. They’re calling it a “natural departure.” I’d never criticize any artist for trying something new. The problem is that that M&S isn’t trying something new. Based on what we’ve heard of the new sound, it’s just like every Alt Rock band you’ve never heard of.

I’m not suggesting they should go back to their original sound–Goddess forbid! But guys, if you’re tired of the banjos and the country/bluegrass, take your cue from the Beatles and David Bowie, and give us a new sound, something you can own and be proud of. Don’t insult us with a generic sound off the shelf, and don’t insult yourself by considering it growth.

Moving on again.

Remember those anchor rods on the Bay Bridge? The ones that were improperly weatherproofed and stressed by fixing the Leaning Tower of the East Bay? Caltrans has found evidence that one of those rods may be broken.

They’ve been doing ultrasound tests on the rods, and apparently one of them is six inches shorter than the rest. Six inches out of twenty-five feet doesn’t sound like much, and it is quite possible that it’s short because a minor flaw was trimmed off the end before the rod was installed. But it could also be a sign that the rod snapped at some point after it was installed.

The other 421 rods passed the ultrasound test, but if I understand the technology correctly, that only shows they haven’t broken, not whether they’ve been stressed almost to the point of breaking. And if the one rod broke, it casts doubt on the long-term durability of the rest.

So Caltrans is going to test that rod by pulling on the top end. If it moves, they’ll know it’s broken. Seems pretty straightforward. We should know shortly whether we need to add another worry to the list already attached to that shiny $6.4 billion bridge.

Either way though, we can console ourselves with one thought: at least the Bay Bridge isn’t Mumford & Sons.

I’m Confused

I still don’t understand how Google decides that searches are or are not related.

Take yesterday’s top searches, for example. Number One, by a ten-to-one margin was “St. Patrick’s Day”. Google says that related searches are “st patricks day,” “saint patricks day,” “st patrick,” and “when is st patrick’s day*”. Well and good. Except that “leprechaun” came in at Number Five on the day and “shamrock” made it to Number Fourteen. (I could also include “corned beef and cabbage” and its related search “corned beef and cabbage recipe” at Number Nine on my “I’m puzzled” list, but I’ll cut Google a break.)

* Is this the latest sign of the decline of civilization: on the day before St. Patrick’s Day, people don’t know when it is?” Or is it just that we’ve reached the point where it’s faster and easier to ask Google than to look at a calendar?

Is there really so much search action for shamrocks and leprechauns the rest of the year that the big G doesn’t think they’re related to Sam Patrick?

OK, maybe I’m expecting too much, thinking Google will pair up peripherally-related topics. But wait!

The Number Two search yesterday was “Dancing With the Stars”. That has “Suzanne Somers,” “Noah Galloway,” “Redfoo,” “Robert Herjavec,” and “Dancing With the Stars 2015” as related searches. So peripherally-related topics have been linked in. Unless you’re going to try to tell me that DWtS is the only reason someone might search for Ms. Somers.

And worse, Number Four was “Rumer Willis” with related searches “Demi Moore,” “Bruce Willis,” and “dwts” (emphasis mine). Why isn’t “dwts” a related search for “Dancing With the Stars” and why aren’t searches for Ms. Willis being counted for the show, just as Ms. Somers’ are?

More inconsistency: “Charlotte McKinney” made it to Number Seven on the list on the strength of her DWtS appearance, and she doesn’t even have the show on her list of related searches. Ditto for Willow Shields and Riker Lynch (Numbers Eleven and Fifteen, respectively), who probably wouldn’t even have hit Google’s Trending list without the DWtS connection.

How about it, Google? Want to clear up the mystery for us? Or should we just assume it’s all done randomly?

You may have noticed, by the way, that I didn’t mention the Number Three search on Google yesterday. Amazingly enough, it had nothing to do with either St. Patrick’s Day or “Dancing With the Stars”. It was “Dairy Queen”. More than 200,000 people checked with Google, apparently trying to confirm that yesterday was Free Cone Day.

Now there’s a holiday Google really should have used Google Now to promote. After all, who wouldn’t like to be notified about free ice cream? OK, maybe not the residents of the Boston area, who have been hit with more than nine feet of snow this year, with more on the way. But the rest of us? Give us the option, Google!