Street level

Ever since I moved to San Francisco some 40 years ago, people were living on the streets. Hippies, bums, panhandlers or just plain street people, what you called them depended on your point of reference. Most of the ones I heard of lived in Golden Gate Park, where an entire village could lie hidden in the underbrush. One might not find evidence of them unless one strayed off the paved path, and having grown up around forests I was not reluctant to dive into a thicket or copse if a hint of trail led therein. While I sometimes found evidence of an encampment, I rarely made contact with actual people and when I did, I kept on going. Nothing to see here, keep moving, but sir that is a pungent aroma.

When I started working night in the South of Market it was much the same. At the time, before the arrival of the glass towers, no one in their right mind ventured there at night. There wasn’t much there anyway except for the TransBay Terminal, with its cavernous lower hall illuminated by florescent lights and stippled with long wooden benches draped with late-night would-be passengers for the Grey Dog and Trailways long-distance buses. Up top, often wrapped in wet cold fog were the local lines. The all-night F from AC Transit carrying sodden students back to Berkeley, and the ghostly N-line streetcar that swept up the ramp and waited to pick up passengers headed back to the Sunset, looking so much like Charon’s boat in the gloom. Beyond the Terminal was nothing but a few dive bars and the deep underground club scene. And there the homeless were also, in their small cardboard capsules, swaddled in rags and bags and filth. And I walked on by.

There was a time when I made the acquaintance of a homeless guy. By this time I was working the day shift, and went out to lunch a few times a week. I was a manager, I wore a coat and tie, I was a member of the established set. Except I wasn’t, because the established set were part of a cultural syndicate that didn’t know quite what to make of me and ran in circles that were both inside and outside the team I directed. So my lunches were always alone, which was actually fine by me. I enjoyed a sandwich and juice on a bench or stair, watching the Financial District crowd sashay back and forth on the brick sidewalks.

It was there Paul walked up to me and asked if I’d like to buy a copy of the Street Sheet. I asked him what it was about as much out of professional curiosity as anything and he explained the Sheet was written, printed and distributed by street people. It was only a dollar. We talked more until I had to get back to work. Over the next couple of years I’d see him about once a month and we’d jaw about stuff. I’d buy the paper, read it while we talked, and give it back to him so he could sell it again. He’d been a printer himself once, in a life where he left a home to go to work. He’d had his fights with drugs, but it was behind him as long as he kept busy. During the summer months he made enough to stay in a residential hotel, which was a hell of a lot better than queuing up for a city shelter.

I lost touch with him when I got busyer. I know that’s not how it’s spelled, but if you’ve ever seen “In Pursuit of Happyness” you’ll get it. Anyway, I changed jobs and locations and that was it.

 

meter

Street Sentinel

A few months ago I pushed my bicycle out of my garage in the pre-dawn light and started my commute to work. It’s a really pleasant ride: from the quiet residential street in my neighborhood the route intersects a cross-town link to BART, the regional train system, and then elevates to a long expressway that leads to and from the interstate. I then traverse three miles of trendy Valencia street, which T-bones Market Street, the spine of town. A coupe of blocks before that, the ramp of the Central Freeway passes overhead, providing a bit of visual cover for the street below. Just past its shadow, for some reason, I happened to look at the wall of shuttered shops along the sidewalk. In one of the doorways lay a bedraggled man in a sleeping bag, propped up on one folded arm, looking out at the curb. His beard was matted and his hair tangled. But his eyes were wide and clear, and held the expression of a person who was acutely aware he was again waking up on the street, wondering how the hell his life had come to that. It was the stare of a man who had once known what to do and how to get along in life, and now was just trying to figure out the next steps in his day.

He never looked up as I passed. I stopped at the light on McCoppin; another block beyond that lay Market and the intersection at Otis. Beyond that was Van Ness Avenue, home to mansions before the 1906 earthquake and fire, and now doing double-duty as bustling Highway 101 through the city, lined with palatial Rolls-Royce and Lamborghini  showrooms and steak houses.

I couldn’t shake his face. I turned down Van Ness, taking a couple of back alleys that would lead me back to Valencia. In one of those alleys I stopped to pull a bill out of my wallet, stuffing it back into the pocket from which it came.

I pulled onto the sidewalk, navigating a dog and its walker, and stopped next to the guy. I leaned over and handed him the money. He looked at it, then up at me.

“Thank you, man.” he said. “God bless you.”

I’ve not seen him since.

 

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If you build it

TransSales

The core of Salesforce Tower rises above the plywood fence in the foreground. Behind it, the last beam of steel for the new Transbay Terminal was set in place last week.

There’s no point in trying to compare the past with the present when it comes to construction activity in the Financial District South. The fact that it is even called Financial District South speaks to the situation.  I saw the movie “The Pursuit of Happyness” tonight for the first time, thanks to a movie channel. In the timeframe of the film, Dean Witter Reynolds was an independent brokerage with offices in the Bank Of America World Headquarters building on California Street. The Pacific Stock Exchange was four blocks down and one over, a granite edifice with guards patrolling the entrances.

Today, B of A’s headquarters are in Manhattan.Dean Witter is long gone. The PSEX is patrolled by impossibly toned women and men in Fabletics and Lululemon wear. The building is now a health club; the halls that once echoed with calls to buy and sell now replaced with exhortation to push and feel the burn.

In the South of Market we now have Black Rock, Morgan Stanley, and Charles Schwab. And Salesforce, which is its own kind of financial juggernaut. The new tower rising in the midst of the terminal project will eventually house some of their employees, offices for other companies, and residences in its one thousand feet of rise. And they will look down onto a huge urban park that will be greater than the sum of all the greenspace in SOMA today.

It’s all a changed world under construction for us, but for them it will be just a new world.

 

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I’ve had many ideas to post but not acted on anything for a few months. Even now I’ve dithered writing this while looking back through images that were meant to be illustrated, but never authored. I can’t say why – sometimes the writing block refuses to be described.

One recurring feeling continues to bubble up: San Francisco is poised on the curling edge of a wave of change. Massive infrastructure projects are underway around the city, such as haven’t been done for many years. It’s not just the blue glass and aluminum silos that are sprouting in the former industrial warrens of Rincon Hill. It’s the transformative developments:

  • Candlestick Park is now gone and all that was part of it. With little public fanfare and a huge expanse of area in which to build, redevelopment work is moving forward and the first new housing is already under construction.
  • The Transbay Transit Center project has emerged above ground but still has several years to go. Now that the Salesforce Tower is underway, developers surrounding the site are rushing to get their shovels in the ground. Though there had been some worry about funding the urban park that was to be a theme of the transit center’s roof, I’m sure that, a la Hudson Yards, the building owners will see the benefit of having access to such an amenity for their tenants and will kick in some cash or work to make it happen.
  • The Central Subway is the first new underground line in decades in The City, and many people are onboard with the idea the next one should happen much more quickly. As it is this cross-town line will create a significant new artery between Mission Bay and Union Square/Chinatown. It also forebodes a shift for North Beach and the Marina. Change will accelerate in these densely populated neighborhoods. Not so much for Telegraph Hill, protected by Aaron Peskin and geography, not to mention the ridiculous entry price for housing there.
  • Crissy Field is San Francisco’s front yard. Already loved to pieces by the work of the Presidio Trust over the past ten years, the replacement of Doyle Drive with the Presidio Parkway and the renovation of the surrounding public space will change beyond recognition – and the space is already unrecognizable from just ten years ago.

But the most significantly, I feel the housing pressure easing ever so slightly. A small studio still costs more in annual rent than purchasing a small motorhome, and you can buy a garage space for the price of a one-bedroom condo in some parts of  the country. But the frenzy seems to have abated, as if the crowd chasing real estate suddenly poured out of a narrow alley into a wide plaza and is slowing down to assess the landscape. I’m not quite sure how to quantify it, or what it means. Especially since the prices are still high – but soft.

A friend recently gave up her two-bedroom condo and moved into the City after an absence of some twenty years. She found two shared rentals within as many months. Anecdotal yes, but she was able to find places without spending half her paycheck.

It’s also winter, when the market gets sluggish anyway. But I started this post nearly two months ago. We’ll see what the coming months bring. Especially summer, when a number of new apartment units are due to come onto the market in Mission Bay.

 

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Breakaway

The internet, airwaves and magazine racks are full of advice on how to take a vacation and disconnect from the job. So I thought I’d add my own to the noise.

 

Take the scene below:

DVSunset

Add yourself to a chair on the darkened deck.

Fill the glass with your favorite relaxing beverage and consume.

Repeat till done.

 

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Small town, big sky

Well, I was born in a small town. And before you rip me for ripping Mellencamp, know that I wasn’t even thinking of him when I had the idea for this post. But digging even deeper, were you yourself born in a small town? Or did you grow up in a small town? Because if you did, you’ll understand at a visceral level what it means to stand in the middle of the street at dusk, with the air so still you can hear wind in the trees a block away. If you close your eyes and pull those memories forward hard enough, you’ll remember the evening scent hanging in the air from the landscape around you. If you are old enough to have forgotten, one deep breath will recall to you the aroma was of the trees on your block, or the milkweed and reeds bordering the bank of the culvert near your friends’ house, or the gravel road leading up to your neighborhood from the blacktop, littered with crushed acorns fallen from the spreading arms of oaks.

MeadowsDusk

Sunset beyond the Meadows

And the quiet. Those evenings when everyone was inside starting, eating or finishing dinner, when maybe you were the only one out because you had to take out the trash, or walk your dog, or do something before it got dark. You were there to see the sky filled with light from an unseen source, the mighty Sun having already dipped behind a horizon edged with a haze that made its light diffuse on the atmospheric canvas. There were no street lights or neon signs or tall buildings polka-dotted with office lights to wash out the view. Just the sky, and the quiet so deep that it pulled you into the road where you could see the splendor, knowing no cars were coming or would come for the long minutes that you wanted to spend, the adult looking at the same sky that was there as a child, in your small town.

IMG_3772

Looking east from The Meadows

I know, it looks like suburbia. A march of tract homes in a developer-inspired meander intended to lend the appearance of non-conformity. An illusion, if you will. But the real illusion is that it is all orderly and tame. Wild turkeys cross the roads moving from the riparian stream to the woodlands. Pumas prowl the hills within a half mile of the perimeter. Feral pigs have been known to bolt from the underbrush. But the telling part is that each of these tidy little homes is its own lifeboat, a collection in a community where the rising moon means that whatever shops and businesses that might be a source of provision are miles and miles away. No commerce means no traffic except for the people you know coming home to park their cars and go inside for the night, leaving the night to gather around the familiar scent, and the silence to deepen, on the streets of this small town.

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upgrade part II

just a short post.

Getting the front fan cage out was more difficult than I thought it would be. I left it kind of resting on the motherboard after loosening the screws. I knew better and of course, karma hit me upside the head by revealing a broken latch for the video slot. Fortunately, the size of my card bridges the entire damn cage and both heat sinks, being supported by a slot in the rear fan cage. So I won’t miss the latch and I doubt whoever should inherit this machine after me will either.

When you open your box, be patient. That is rule #1.

Rule #2 is wear a grounding strap.

Pulling off the heat sinks was the last step before reaching the final destination. I decided to clean and inspect them before pulling the CPUs, because once I started that I was going to re-assemble until it was all back together.

HeatsinkTools

Tools of the heat sink cleaning trade.

Those things are pretty massive. Motodad noted the copper tuning made them look like they have liquid cooling. The glass bowl holds isopropyl alcohol. When I was a young mad scientist I’d buy a bottle every month to fuel my Bunsen burner. In this case it was only an agent to get the old thermal paste off the copper plates on the bottoms of the sinks.

DirtClean Heatsinks

One down, one to go. You don’t realize how devastatingly handsome these are until you get close to them. Yes, I did lose focus of the gravity of the situation.

Patience and a lot of Q-tips got them nice and burnished. A can of air got the fins clean, but don’t let anyone tell you micro dust bunnies don’t have a sense of self preservation. They managed to wrap themselves around posts, cling to the fin edges, and do just about anything to keep from flying off like they were supposed to.

I didn’t bother to chronicle everything going back together. I put the heat sinks in before the front fan cage, which of course wouldn’t go in. So out came the sinks and the newly applied thermal paste. I didn’t reapply it when I put them back.

I did screw and unscrew the rear cage four times before I got the rear cage, heat sink cover and front cage to all line up and fit nicely. Apple likes putting things together with tight tolerances, and this was no different.

I lugged the 54-pound box back to its place under my desk. Connected all the cables. Forgot the power hungry tower would fire as soon as the AC was connected, and I didn’t have the monitor plugged in, but all was cool.

Logged on. Looked at the system profiler.

Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 12.03.21 AM

About that upgrade.

I went from dual quad-core Xeons running at 2.66 GHz to a pair of 8-core chips at 3.0 GHz. I could change the unknown to a known by updating the firmware. But the system fans don’t spin any faster, the temperature gauge doesn’t budge and everything works just dandy, so I’m leaving well enough alone. In the hardware department. For now.

Next mod: Yosemite.

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Time to upgrade

I’m upgrading my 2006 Mac Pro. I’ve been talking about trying to hack it to get from Mountain Lion to Mavericks since early last year, and switched my fuzzy focus to going to Yosemite. But other than making bootable USBs I haven’t really doing anything except watching YouTubes and reading how-tos.

In the course of doing that I found a few hacks to upgrade the CPUs, going from two dual-core Xeons to quad-core 5365s. And with the receipt of a pair of quad-core processors over the holidays, I’m finally taking action.

MacProPre

The last moments of the working box before I dive into it.

If the CPU swap is successful, I’ll then proceed with the OS upgrade. One might ask why even bother with a 7-year-old computer, but the cost of the upgrade is pretty minimal when compared to the cost of a new machine. Sure, I wouldn’t have to buy another Pro as the current iMac will beat the panels off this machine performance-wise. But I’ve invested a lot in this machine and its design is the last Macintosh that allows as many upgrades as I’ve already made. Unless I’m mistaken, none of the current Mac generations allow upgrades to memory, drives, video and CPU all on one machine by the end user.

MacProGuts

6.5 TB of storage, soft RAID 1, 12 GB of memory and a card capable of driving a pair of monitors.

All those components have been replaced in my Mac since I bought it. All of them failed at one point, and were replaced by larger drives, bigger memory and more powerful graphics cards. But the brilliant design of the case made replacing these relatively easy. To do the CPU swap I have to get past all that stuff to the motherboard, which lies deep inside the machine.

If you have an early 2006 MacPro and are thinking of doing this mod, you may have read some of the excellent posts on ow to do it. And you probably hear about a few people’s travails in removing the CPU fan. I have two tips for you. One, you really will need a piece of PC hardware to get the fan out.

PCI-Covers

Second, the fan cage feels like it is catching on something when you tug it because it is mounted on a plastic slide latch that is about three inches long.

I made a small handle for the PCI card cover by slipping a pegboard hook through the small hole in the cover. I slipped it under the edge of the cover, gave it a few good yanks, and it popped right out.

PlasticLatch2

The plastic slide is in the lower left corner of the shot, near the bottom of the chassis.

I’ll post more later. Time for sleep now.

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How MacWorld changed my life

Lying on the floor at my feet is a blue nylon bag with an imprinted logo reading “square jellyfish”. Inside are a collection of brochures I picked up at the 2014  San Francisco MacWorld conference. At the time it had the feel of being perhaps the last MacWorld conference ever. In October 2014 the organizing company IDG announced the show would go on hiatus. IDG had shut down Macworld magazine a month earlier.

An animal that does not exist in nature - I think.

An animal that does not exist in nature – I think.

I hadn’t looked at any of those brochures since slipping them into the bag, one by one, as I roamed the show floor on that late winter day. The friends with whom I usually attend the show did not make the trip that year. I myself slipped in towards the end of a show day to look around in the North Hall of the Moscone Convention Center, where it had returned after being in a smaller space at Moscone West for a few years.

I was sorry to see it go. I didn’t start out as a Mac guy, and until a few years ago I wouldn’t have called myself so either. I got my computing start on Commodores, where I learned BASIC, and moved on to build a Heathkit system from parts. My first factory-assembled computer ran CP/M, older than DOS. I also ran a BBS on CP/M and had no use for the jittery images on the first Apple I.

Even when the Mac came out, I wasn’t convinced. My poor Morrow Designs MD-3 was being outclassed by the more powerful Kaypro and Osbourne machines, and I secretly lusted after an Altair with an S100 bus. If you were born after the Pet Shop Boys made their debut this is all last century history for you. The part you might relate to is where I was sick of what I was doing and wanted a different job. I was not just tired mind you, but hated my work.

My then-girlfriend likewise hated her job and we wound up buying a Mac SE and a Laserwriter. I thought I would go back to freelance writing and she was going to study networking and telecom. She went on to become a junior system administrator and I…got promoted to management.

So now I officially hated my job, with a title. But I was determined to make it work. In the office I had a PC connected to our Unix email system and a 3270 emulator board to access mainframe applications. My staff ran 22 processing machines running on modified Perkin-Elmer systems. I was far more interested in what the programmers did to the systems than I was in managing the people operating them. And then one day I picked up a flyer announcing a computer show in town for Macs. I’d been a Morrow user group member for years and thought this show might draw maybe one hundred or so people, quite a bit larger than the 25 or 30 who showed up for my user group meetings.

As the ‘Aliens’ Hudson said, flipping A. There were hundreds of booths, thousands of people and the show was so big it not only filled all of the sole Moscone Center exhibition hall, but also most of Brooks Hall, a mile away in Civic Center. Shuttle buses ran between the two. I was agog, barely making sense of everything I saw.

I left the show with an inexpensive desktop publishing program and a handful of tchotchkes. I worked that program to death. I ported my BBS to the Mac. I learned how to use ResEdit.

One day I saw a job opening in the company for a group called “End User Computing”. Essentially, it was an internal startup. They were trying to put these hobby ‘puters to doing real work. I didn’t have big Unix chops. I didn’t have big mainframe chops. Heck, I barely knew my way around the Mac. But I interviewed with them. They were about to launch a hot new piece of software to move messages between the mainframe and the PCs – seamlessly! I asked if I could attend one of the planing meetings as an interested bystander.  I was there when the manager was called away to some crisis, pulled me into the hall outside the meeting room and asked if I really wanted to work for them.

Three years later I was standing in the offices of MacWorld magazine, talking with the managing editor about starting a business-oriented user group in San Francisco. I was an Apple ASC for my company. Attending conferences was part of my job, and I kept a sign-up list for employees wanting to borrow vendor tickets to go see the show every year. I supported the company execs, made product recommendations, evaluated vendors and performed consultations and installs for lines of business. It was easily one of the best jobs I ever had. Half the work was on PCs, half on Macs, with telecom, mainframe and the occasional Bloomberg thrown in for variety.

In all that time, I missed the MacWorld show but once. Now it’s gone, and I think forever. I have an image from that last show in my head, of a small booth for a product simply called Ring, from a tiny Japanese company. The chief engineer was in the booth, and the CEO was on the floor. They were barely conversant in English, but the demonstrator took care of explaining the product which unfortunately was not yet ready to ship. After the demo was over, I watched with others looking at the prototype sitting inside a Lucite box. I asked the demonstrator how many different devices it worked with. He said a small number, but he’d like to hear my suggestions for how I’d like to use it. We talked  a while and then the engineer asked a question. The demonstrator turned to me and asked if I’d like to place an order. I politely declined, and asked if many orders had been taken. He said a handful, but he expected better results when they returned next year.

IMG_3678

The only freebies I collected in the 2014 MacWorld show were mints and an Odwalla button. And of course, a few brochures. No more WordPerfect umbrella.

Tonight, I finally opened the bag and looked at the contents. Sparse, like the show itself. There was a card from the Ring maker. I plugged their URL into my browser.

They are at CES.

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And then came the rain

A storm last week brought much needed rain to drought-ravaged California, but also caused havoc across the region. Urban floodwaters cascaded down San Francisco’s sloping neighborhoods and pooled around city streets. Several sinkholes opened up around the city while commuters and travelers were brought to a sliding halt on wet Bay Area highways.

Wednesday’s system will be stronger.

From the online site of the San Francisco Chronicle


I’ve mentioned before that I live in a river. Not the pretty babbling-brook riparian picture that may first come to mind but one more suited to a dense city, where water running on the surface is typically in concrete gutters. This southern branch of Islais Creek starts nearly a mile away from my house. It was encased in a culvert 100 years ago and covered over to create the subdivision in which Mason-McDuffie and others would build the house that now cover the land.

The Wednesday storm system mentioned in the Chronicle slowed down. Even now, at 12:45 AM Thursday morning on the west coast of the U.S., it is gathering strength. The bedroom door shakes in its frame as it moves in response to the air pressure in the house, changed by the occasional wind outside.

This storm is long and strong, stretching well over 150 miles lengthwise to the coast. It is pushed by a jet stream extending far out over the Pacific, nearly halfway to Hawaii. The waters off Ocean Beach are unusually warm, which will add to the storm’s intensity.

At the deep end of Mission Terrace, homes were inundated with water. The City brought huge Dumpsters and a crew out to help people get rid of carpet, drywall and many appliances.

Four of these rhino lunch boxes were set upon the street. Neighbors said at least two replaced ones that had been filled and carted away.

Four of these rhino lunch boxes were set upon the street. Neighbors said at least two replaced ones that had been filled and carted away.

The city set up the tents and assisted people with paperwork, as well as lending a hand in pulling soaked ruin from their homes.

The city set up the tents and assisted people with paperwork, as well as lending a hand in pulling soaked ruin from their homes.

The last line of defense before the door to the keep is breached.

The last line of defense before the door to the keep is breached.

 

All the above was written Wednesday and saved as a draft. My photos were on a different system and I had to import them to use them. Being tired and it being very late, I goofed it five times before finally just going to sleep, resolving to try again the next day.

And this morning was hectic, with wild weather delivered as promised. My delay in posting allowed time for the picture below to be shared to my neighborhood mailing list by the San Francisco Department of Public Works. It was probably sent to them by the neighbor living adjacent to this fine display.

 

11dec2014-santa rosa at san jose

This was the scene two blocks uphill from my house this morning. Notice the position of the sewer cover.

 

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Ilse Crawford

With attributions to the Wall Street Journal, who profiled this designer in their weekend edition of November 1-2:

The quickest way to make your home relaxing is to turn down the lights and open a few bottles of wine.

The dimmer switch is the most important design object there is.

dimswitch

Dimmer by Leviton, styling by Decora

Dimmers cost a little more than on-off switches, but they add much more value to a house over time. And immeasurable value to your ability to control light in your home. But this post isn’t so much about dimmers or even wine. It just illustrates something good to do after nine hours of conference calls, shared screen sessions and Microsoft Office documents.

vsattui

Who was it that said water is for bathing and wine is for drinking?

I also went for a run. I signed out of my Lync session about four ‘o clock. Here on the U.S. West coast we observe daylight savings time, and it was nearly 4:30 when I finally hit the street. I carried a small flexible bicycle light looped into my water bottle. My route is all inclines and declines except for the two blocks leading from my front door.

It runs from Mission Terrace up into Glen Park, along Chenery and into the back side of Noe Valley. Technically, that back side is still Glen Park and was once a dairy farm. When I was a City Guide, I worked on a project with a woman whose family once worked that land. Now the only hint of its past is Mitchell’s Ice Cream.

The run was relaxing despite the traffic, the increasing gloom of dusk and the impatient drivers. I worked out a little upon returning home, and then actually logged on and went back to work, wanting to hit a checkpoint before calling in a night. Once done, I finally cracked open a bottle.

Okay, all for now. Sleepy.

 

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