Good News / Bad News

Apparently it’s a Good News/Bad News sort of day.

First up, the Toll Bridge Program Oversight Committee has released a draft of their report on the Bay Bridge’s 2,200 bolts.

  • Good News: The report concludes that the bolts can “safely remain in service”.
  • Bad News: Caltrans’ credibility is so badly damaged that Jaxon’s article in today’s Chron gives almost as much space to a dissenting opinion. That opinion, provided by Yun Chung, a retired Bechtel engineer, takes issue with the design and extent of the tests Caltrans conducted.
  • Good News: At least Caltrans has documented the tests. That’s a major step forward from their previous practices on the Bay Bridge eastern span.
  • Bad News: The release of the draft report comes just a few days after the minimal “management shakeup” that’s been widely panned. Regardless of the Committee’s intent in releasing the report, it comes across as an attempt to distract the public’s attention from Caltrans’ failings throughout the bridge’s construction.

Next, we need to turn our attention the other end of the Bay Bridge.

  • Good News: The popular “Bay Lights” display on the western span will not end in March. Thanks to a $2 million dollar matching donation, the $4 million cost of making the installation permanent has been raised.
  • Bad News: That $4 million doesn’t include anything to cover the maintenance and power costs of the lights, estimated at $250,000. That money will be coming from bridge tolls. The same tolls that are pledged to cover maintenance of the entire bridge, including, one presumes, the “continued inspection and maintenance” of those 2,200 bolts. How long will it take for Caltrans to propose another increase in tolls to maintain “Bay Lights”?

There’s more news on the international scene.

  • Good News: President Obama is taking steps to normalize relations with Cuba. I’m too young to remember the Cuban Missle Crisis and the other Cold War era events that led to the U.S. policy of pretending Cuba didn’t exist. Maybe if I did remember those years, I’d understand how a unilateral embargo–ignored by the rest of the world–coupled with an ongoing series of incompetent attempts to foment a public uprising against Castro could possibly weaken Cuba’s ties to the Soviet Union and improve conditions for its citizens.
  • Bad News: There’s no way Obama is going to get a Republican-controlled Congress to support the plan. It’ll be spun as Obama being soft on Communism and illegal immigration. Given the Right’s ongoing attempts to demonize Obama, it’s only a matter of time before somebody starts explaining in all seriousness how normalization of relations with Cuba is part of a plot to turn Americans over to alien mind-controlling lizards.

Still on the international front,

  • Bad News: Sony and theater chains have decided to shelve “The Interview”. Nobody has presented any evidence that North Korea is behind the Sony hacks, nor is there any credible evidence that the hackers could carry out their threats to bomb theaters. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Sony and the theater owners have acceded to a terrorist demand despite the total lack of proof that the terrorists could actually carry out their threat. Now that the precedent has been set, look for a string of unsubstantiated bomb threats leading to the cancellation of any film project that could possibly be considered controversial.
  • Good News: By shelving “The Interview,” Sony has spared us the prospect of TSA-style security screenings at movie theaters. At least for now we’ll be spared the need to take off our shoes and wade through spilled soda and popcorn on our way through the X-ray machines.

Hungarian Goulash and Minestrone Soup

Time for another round of minor updates and short items.

Last week I posted a piece on the proper use of the apostrophe, which included a deliberate error as a joke. When there was no reaction, I asked for feedback from you all. My thanks to those of you who responded (you know who you are…) Consensus opinion is that it was too subtle for the typical online reader, who can be expected to browse through a post, rather than reading it in detail. I shall take that advice to heart and henceforth I shall keep my jokes as broad as possible.

This breaking news just in: The Bay Bridge has yet to collapse!

The old span closed last night at 8 pm to allow construction staff to connect the new bridge to the road at both ends. For reasons that are hopefully obvious, the old and new bridges need to be closed while the work is being done. The ceremonial last car across the old bridge was a 1930 Model A. Reports are unclear, but it appears that the driver was required to pay the normal toll: toll collectors didn’t leave their booths until after he passed through the toll plaza onto the actual bridge.

The new bridge will be officially opened at 3 pm Monday with a chain-cutting ceremony attended by almost none of the politicians who were instrumental in extending the bridge replacement process to almost a quarter of a century. Depending on how smoothly the construction goes, traffic will start flowing at some time in the 12 hours after the ceremony.

Traffic was mixed this morning. Reports were that the other bridges were crowded, but not totally blocked. A quick local inspection showed that I-80 was wide open headed south towards the Bay Bridge through Richmond, El Cerrito, Albany, and Berkeley, but noticeably slower than usual headed north towards the Richmond-San Rafael bridge. An on-the-spot report (thanks, Maggie!) says that BART trains headed for SF were close to 50% fuller than usual, and parking garages were noticeably more full than usual (the Chron’s website notes that BART police issued a larger-than-usual number of tickets to cars parked in permit-only lots).

The Federal Highway Administration says the new bridge is safe. Caltrans says the new bridge is safe. The only important voice not yet heard from is Mother Nature. I’d suggest that she run a QA test on the bridge’s seismic stability, but any quake large enough to give the bridge a decent test would shut down BART for at least several hours while the Transbay Tube is checked for damage, and possibly much longer if any damage is done.

In a related story, Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.

Scientists at the University of Washington report that they have successfully conducted an experiment in mind-control over the Internet. OK, I exaggerate. One scientist, connected to an EEG, visualized moving his index finger. The recorded signal was sent via network to the second scientist who wore a “transcranial magnetic stimulation coil” positioned to stimulate the portion of his brain responsible for controlling his right hand. When the signal was received, his index finger moved as pictured by the sender.

Sounds creepy, doesn’t it? The team points out that it’s not quite as disturbing as it seems. It was done under ideal conditions, requires highly specialized equipment carefully positioned, and can not override the receiver’s will. All true enough; on the other hand, this is a first step, not an end product.

And despite what Internet rumor may suggest, the research was not funded by the NSA. Funding actually came from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and, well, the U.S. Army Research Office. It’s definitely much to early to get alarmed about this research, and there are certainly many, many good uses for the technology once it matures, but it’s something I intend to keep an eye on.

Finally, if you’ve been wondering what the title of this post has to do with the contents, allow me to elucidate. Thanks to the influence of singer Allan Sherman, I’ve long suspected that Goulash and Ministrone were designed as ways to use up leftovers. I won’t try to convince you. Check the recipes below, listen to Sherman’s take on the subject and make up your own minds.

Hungarian Goulash

Minestrone Soup