Ex Bibliotheca

The life and times of Zack Weinberg.

Thursday, 25 September 2003

# 3:40 PM

I'm writing this in the terminal of the San Francisco Airport, where I'm waiting for my flight down to L.A. to visit my family. Getting to SFO is a lot easier now that BART goes all the way. I hopped on the outbound J-Church streetcar at the time prescribed by TakeTransit, rode it to Balboa Park, transferred to BART and got off at the airport. From there, they have a little people-mover shuttle that runs in two counter-rotating loops, to all the terminals.

From Balboa Park to Colma the BART runs mostly aboveground. It's an interesting little part of the city to see; as you go outward it shades from streetcar suburbs (built around the 1900s) to dense automotive suburbs (1930s) to modern suburban sprawl. There are also remnants of the infotech boom, oversized office towers with FOR LEASE banners sadly flapping in the breeze.

From Colma to the airport, the train goes back underground, so you don't get to see any of that area. In places, however, they built the tunnel with no center partition, so you can see the other track and the far tunnel wall in the gloom of the emergency lights. It's kinda pretty for industrial architecture. The new stations look less like bare concrete blockhouses than the old ones do, despite still being built with bare concrete. Good job that.

The people-mover shuttle appears to run on rubber tires and an electric rail in the middle. There's no human driver; I assume they figured they don't need one since it's a completely closed track. It's got the 1990s cute-technology aesthetic; the cars are painted a friendly shade of blue and have big roomy interiors with friendly carpeting. An automatic voice politely announces each station and reminds you to hold on to something while the car is moving (there are no seats). However, these announcements are recorded in an autocratic male voice and played back far too loud. Furthermore, one of the announcements ("Please put luggage cart brake to on") has a grammatical error that I can't believe they missed.

The security rigmarole has been streamlined, and today appears to be a low-traffic day, so I got through to the terminal in about ten minutes. I still had to take off my sandals (more out of concern that they'd set off the metal detector than anything else, it sounded like) and send the laptop through the X-ray machine in a separate tray from its bag. This always sets off my theft paranoia, even though the checkpoint is carefully arranged to prevent someone lurking by the output queue to snatch anything. Oddly enough, they let me (twentysomething, long hair, cargo pants, CBLDF T-shirt) right through, but stopped the guy right behind me (fiftysomething, short hair, suit and tie) for a detailed search. He did set off the metal detector though.

There's a nice little piece of art in the escalator tube going from the BART platform to the shuttle platform. It's a band about three feet high, of little metal disks, going all the way around the tube. Each disk is hung on a separate hook, so they can ripple in the wind. You get the most interesting wave patterns going around. I like it. The art in the elevator tube coming down to the Terminal 3 ticket counters is much less pleasing, it's this nasty spiky brushed-metal thing.

# 2:40 PM

A package arrived this morning. I wasn't expecting a package. It turned out to be a DSL modem. I told the ISP not to send me another DSL modem, I already have a perfectly good one.

About half an hour later the phone rang. My car insurance company.

Guy:You're due for renewal next month, and this office is going to be closed for renovation for the next few weeks, can we take care of this now?
Me:No, we can't, I'm leaving for Los Angeles in two hours, this is not a good time.
Guy:Oh. Er, you'll have to call the central office.

What I didn't say: "You lot are a bunch of scumbags who took three months to send me the card I'm legally required to have in my car, and never sent me the full policy document at all; I'm taking my business elsewhere." Even though it's true. I'm too nice sometimes.

# 1 AM

annoying discoveries

If my laptop has been booted up while disconnected from the docking station I just bought for it, then it refuses to send any signal to the docking station's video port. (The manual implies that this can be corrected by pressing <Fn><F8> while connected to the dock ... but you can't do that, because the laptop's keyboard is inaccessible and there is no <Fn> key on the attached external keyboard.) If it is plugged into the station and then booted, it does send signal to the video port, which looks just fine in text mode. However, upon switching to graphical mode I get a pattern of thin blue and green vertical stripes instead of the usual splash screen. Time to complain to the XFree86 folks.

The "KVM switch" box I got so as to use the same monitor and keyboard for both laptop and desktop PC, has big green LEDs which indicate which channel is active. Fine. These LEDs flicker when there is either keyboard or mouse activity, and flash when a dead channel is selected. Not fine. (I cannot stand flickering or blinking light, especially not in the corner of my eye, while I am trying to work.) This, at least, can be solved with black electrical tape.

Cleaning my keyboard made all the keys be sluggish. This will clear itself up in a few days but is annoying in the meantime.

Wednesday, 24 September 2003

# 9 PM

I've now set up my desk, mostly. There is still a morass of currently-unused cables to be dealt with, and a bunch of peripheral devices that have not yet been plugged into anything. And then there's the huge heap of papers that have to be sorted through.

Miraculously, DSL has been installed right on schedule.

Friday, 19 September 2003

# 12 PM

It turns out that Cafe XO, which is incredibly convenient to me — right on the corner of Church and 30th, a block and a half from my house — subscribes to the bar-peanuts theory of wireless network access. This is great; they'll be seeing a lot of me. (I don't have DSL at home yet. My ISP says installation is scheduled for the 24th. I'll believe it when it happens.)

GeoURL information for this blog has been updated. I'm being a little less specific about where I live this time.

Unpacking proceeds; most of my stuff is now out of its boxes and in big piles on the floor. I need more container-type furniture. There's a Container Store location on Market; I'll pay them a visit in the near future.

Thursday, 18 September 2003

# 7 PM

So now I live in San Francisco. The south end of Noe Valley, to be precise, near the intersection of Church and 30th. I'm writing this from a cybercafe on Mission, unfortunately they charge you for wireless access. This is silly. The right way to handle wireless is to offer it as a free convenience; the cost to the cafe is trivial (call it $100/month for a reasonably chunky DSL hookup that can handle multiple simultaneous users) and if the demographics are right they'll draw enough additional business that it'll be worth it. It's like the peanuts at a bar. (See generally this article by Mitch Wagner and Cory Doctorow.)

Further to my earlier rant about ATM blipverts, the nearest BoA location to me is now on Mission Avenue. It has different blipverts — much less obnoxious ones, just still frames with no sound — and it has them in both English and Spanish. I suspected the lack of Spanish ads at the ATM in Berkeley had something to do with demographics, and this confirms it. The Mission district has lots of Hispanic families, both working and middle class. Of course, so does Berkeley, but the bank's ad people may not have realized this yet.

Tuesday, 16 September 2003

# 12 AM

Michael and Julia and Leonard and Sumana all came over and helped me move out of my old apartment. I wasn't near done packing, so Michael and Julia and Leonard kindly finished up while I went with Sumana to get the truck from the rental place. Then we all loaded stuff into the truck until we couldn't take it anymore, and then we took a break and got some ice cream. Then we came back, finished loading the truck, and had dinner.

Sumana very kindly drove my car over to San Francisco while I drove the truck. Driving trucks is no fun. They're huge and slow and unwieldy and you can't see what's behind or on the sides. But I didn't hit anything, so it's all good.

Interestingly, it's much easier to load and unload furniture than boxes full of stuff. I think this is because furniture is huge and so you have to put two people on it. Boxes full of stuff are small enough for one person to carry, but they are still really heavy. Also stairs are really awful, even (especially?) going down. I am very glad the new apartment is on the ground floor.

Saturday, 13 September 2003

# 3:30 AM

We liked last night's Brother concert so much that we went to see them again tonight, this time in Antioch at the Wallace Arms. Julia didn't come, but Carrie from ICSI came instead, and a good time was had by all. I gotta say I had a better time last night, mainly because the Arms were kinda cramped, and we got there too late to find seats. Also, the music was way too loud. I don't understand the desire to play so loud that you can't hear the melody because your ears are ringing. Maybe I'm just weird.

Still, it was fun to see the same band play two different sets on successive nights. Hamish and Angus like joking around with the audience, with heavy use of innuendo; I think they toned this down a bit last night, since it was a "family" concert (read: there were six-year-olds running around the grassy audience area).

Again, after the show, the band hung around chatting with the audience and signing autographs. Shweta gave Diz a Guster album. It'll be interesting to see what they do with that. (We plan to go see Guster in November, and I expect she'll find some way to slip them a Brother album.)

Friday, 12 September 2003

# 2:45 AM

Went with Shweta, Nathaniel, Michael, and Julia out to Concord to see Brother play the Todos Santos Plaza - a free show, part of the City of Concord's 2003 Music & Market Series. Brother is two brothers (Hamish and Angus) from Australia, together with a changing backup band; when we saw them, 'Dez' Stewart on keyboards and samples, and T. Xiques on drums. Hamish and Angus play guitar, bagpipes, and didgeridoo, and all four of them sing. Yes, this is rock and roll, although one might not recognize it as such immediately, and man did it ever blow us all away. I can't do the music justice with a description; check out the sound clips and then buy the albums.

After the show, the band hung around the merch booth autographing anything and everything, and answering questions. Shweta wanted to know if they were familiar with Guster. They hadn't heard of them, which prompted much plotting to arrange for a meeting somehow.

I like outdoor concerts, and the Todos Santos Plaza is a great venue for them. It's got good acoustics, clear sightlines, and a really wacky fountain. The sound system is not very powerful, but I consider this a feature, since I think that most rock bands play way too loud.

Thursday, 11 September 2003

# 1:30 PM

My dad's response to the desire for virtual postal addresses: "So start a company!"

My first reaction is that you can't do that, because such addresses will only catch on if it doesn't cost any more money for the sender to send mail to them. The USPS could do it easily; anyone else is going to have to sell expensive subscriptions, so that they can afford to pass the mail along and still turn a profit.

My second reaction is that maybe a company providing this service could cut some deals with shippers and offer an acceptable rate, particularly if people don't mind increased latency on the mail (not too farfetched; I like getting my mail in batches once a week, which is how often I go check my P.O. box; this of course works only because no one ever sends me time-critical stuff by physical mail). Perhaps one of the established shipping companies would consider diversifying into this field.

# 2 AM

reflections while packing

Last time I moved, I had four boxes of books. This time I have nine. Such is the effect of living by oneself in a fairly large apartment for two years. This is after removing from the collection everything I can bear to part with and a few things I can't; those fill three standard grocery bags, waiting to be taken to Half Price Books on Solano Avenue on Friday. I already disposed of another grocery-bagful of books at Black Oak, which earned me a $30 credit slip that I promptly misplaced. It's in this room somewhere and I expect I'll find it while cleaning.

The cardboard boxes I'm using have been in my tribe for some time. They've got labels from previous moves in my grandmother's handwriting, or my friend Shweta's, or even my old friend Darya's from New York ... I must have had that box since 1997.

One somewhat frustrating thing about packing up books is that they are all cut to slightly different sizes. Only mass-market paperbacks and graphic novels have consistent sizes. Most of my collection is hardbacks and trades, so this doesn't help. Worse, none of the cut sizes pack neatly into a standard 12x12x18" cardboard box. Contrast CD cases, which are all the same size (ignoring double albums) and do pack neatly into a box like that, except for the 2" gap at the end which can be filled with something else.

Tuesday, 9 September 2003

# 5:40 PM

rain

Ok, only a drizzle, but still the first rain of the season, and it's badly needed, the air quality has been atrocious the past few weeks.

Sunday, 7 September 2003

# 1:25 AM

It ought to be possible to get a gadget that sits on your desk and lets you use your cell phone the way you use a standard desk phone. It has a full-size handset, or a real headset (not one of those awful earbuds), and it has a speakerphone button, and it automatically charges the battery too.

I can't find one of these things anywhere. There are several companies that make devices like that for use in your car, but nowhere can I find one intended to sit on a desk.

Friday, 5 September 2003

# 3:30 PM

several different rants at once, or, technology bites

My bank has recently upgraded all its ATMs. The only difference, as far as I care, is that they display blipverts at you while you're waiting for them to give you your money. To date, it's always the same blipvert, plugging their online banking service.

This change adds absolutely no value for me, the user. Instead, it annoys me on three grounds: first, that I resent the appearance of advertising in yet another context, second, that I've seen the same ad about three hundred times now and I'm sick of it, and third, that I already use their online banking service, so why must they plug it at me?

There's a way around the ads: tell the ATM to display its menus in Spanish. The bank has not yet bothered to do Spanish ads, so none appear. One wonders what this says about the bank's advertising department's prediction of the demographics of their Anglophone and Hispanophone customers.

BART has recently upgraded all its ticket-selling machines. This upgrade does add utility for the user. All the machines can now give change, and you can buy tickets with credit or ATM cards. However, they seem to break down a lot more. Once recently I was waiting in line at the only functional machine; all the others were displaying a NOT IN SERVICE screen except for the one being actively taken apart by the station agent and the one that was showing a Windows NT boot splash screen (which never did go away, the whole time I was there). I am not sure the tradeoff is worth it.

The new machines are not as nice as they could have been, either. The biggest missing features is the ability to eat several old tickets and spit out a new ticket with their combined value; I'm constantly finding myself with several five-cent tickets and no easy way to get rid of them. Also, they don't understand dollar coins, and they don't give optimal change. I have $4.45 of change from them in my pocket right now, half of which is dimes.

And, this isn't a technology grouse so much as an entrenched bureaucracy grouse. I want virtual postal addresses. I should be able to receive all my mail, including packages, at an address which never changes, but is automatically routed to wherever I happen to be living. Obviously the agency providing the address has to know where that is. In lieu of this, I want the USPS to understand that permanent forwarding orders are supposed to be permanent, not expire in three months.