silicon valley

Child Brides Are American As Apple Pie

My daily routine for Slashdot is to post one or two comments each day, watch my trolls spew forth 25+ comments for each of my comment, and laugh at the dumpster fires. Last week the dumpster fires got serious. My trolls accused me of wanting to marry a child bride from Mexico (a different thread has 50+ comments about child brides). Twisting my past comments about underage marriages — not child brides — out of context. The sad reality is that child brides are as American as apple pie in all 50 states.

Retirement Stories in Silicon Valley

I’ve heard stories of engineers saving enough money to retire to Mexico, build a mansion and marry a sweet young thing. The village elders allowed this with the understanding that the American would leave everything to the village when he dies. A win-win situation for getting the most “bang” out of retirement dollars.

The focus of these stories was always on the low-cost of housing in a foreign country. A million dollars in Mexico can buy a large plot of land for a mansion and a vineyard. I don’t believe that a McMansion — an old house torn down to build a large two-story house on a tiny lot — for $1M in Silicon Valley is possible anymore.

As for the “sweet young thing,” she is just an afterthought. A poor young woman marrying a rich old man is the stuff of telenovelas. None of the stories I’ve ever heard suggested that the retiring engineer was looking for a child bride. Mexican marriage law, like American marriage laws in some states, does allow a 14-year-old girl to marry with parental consent.

Since I started my current job in government IT three years ago, I’ve heard similar stories about ex-military coworkers retiring to the Philippines. Filipino marriage law requires 18- to 21-year-olds need parental consent and 21- to 25-year-olds need parental advice. Since young adults are held to a higher standard than in the U.S., it’s probably not a good idea to ask about child brides.

Child Brides in The U.S.

The general age for marriage in the United States is 18. Most states allow underage marriages with parental consent and/or court reviews for 16- to 18-year-olds. While 25 states have no minimum age at all, allowing children as young as 12 to marry an adult.

As reported by NPR:

Child marriage isn’t just a practice that victimizes girls in poor countries. As this blog has previously reported, it’s also long been an issue in the United States, involving girls from a wide range of backgrounds. Based on state marriage license data and other sources, advocacy groups and experts estimate that between 2000 and 2015 alone, well over 200,000 children — nearly all of them girls — were married. In nearly all cases the husband was an adult.

Lawmakers are reluctant to change state marriage laws. Some believe it would infringe on religious freedom. Others believe that marriage is a solution for teenage pregnancies. Neither statements are true. The problem with many lawmakers is that they are old white men who have nothing in common with today’s society. Only a few states are trying to strike child marriages from the books.

False Narratives on Slashdot

While I have no interest in Russian schoolboys, Bangcock ladyboys, or American/Mexican/Filipino child brides, these are the false narratives that my trolls have pushed so far this year. They believe that Slashdot is my “permanent record” on the Internet. Something that the Real World™ will forever hold against me, as if life was just a continuation of high school. The funny thing is that I never went to high school and I still got two associate degrees.

Special thanks go to the Anonymous Cowards (ACs) on Slashdot who protested this false narrative, posted news article links and tried to raise awareness about this serious issue.

A Week for Jury Duty, Fire Smoke and A Bomb Threat

A month ago I got a jury summons for the week of October 10th (Monday was Columbus Day or Indigenous People’s Day). This was the first time that I ever got a jury summons. If you have a driver license and/or vote (I have the former and do the latter), you eventually get selected for this public duty. As a writer I was eager to participate and learn about the process. As a worker I was anxious since my employer only pays for three days of jury duty and the court pays only $15 per day. The average length of a jury trial in Santa Clara County is five days, but a murder trial could go on for weeks. A short trial I could put up with, a long trial would be a financial burden. The week itself was a trial by fire from jury duty, fire smoke and a bomb threat.

The daily routine for a potential juror is to check the juror reporting website twice a day (11AM and 5PM for my group number). The Tuesday groups reported to the Palo Alto court location. The Wednesday groups reported to the Morgan Hill and downtown San Jose court locations. The Thursday groups reported to the Civic Center location (outside of downtown San Jose). The remaining groups weren’t called in for Friday.

There are three sets of group numbers: 100’s (San Jose), 500’s (Morgan Hill) and 600’s (Palo Alto). My group number was 162. Based on the previous week’s group callings, I expected to report in on Wednesday. A dozen groups reported in on Tuesday. Three dozen groups got called in on Wednesday, raising the counter for the 100’s group to 142.

Wednesday was a very long day.

Smoke from the Sonoma county fires circulated throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, making air pollution worse than a typical day in Beijing. I’ve watched wisps of smoke drift pass my office window in Palo Alto. The afternoon sun was a bright orange orb in the gray sky above. Coworkers at the bus stop claimed to have never seen air pollution this bad before. Like most government workers, they come from all over the United States and few are Californian natives. The 1985 Lexington Reservoir fire that burned 14,000 acres blotted out the Silicon Valley for three days, making the summer sun a blood-red orb in the sky and covered cars in ashes.

When the express bus to San Jose didn’t show up, I took the 89 to the California Avenue Caltrain station. That ended up being the scenic route through Palo Alto. Police and emergency crews closed Page Mill Road between the 280 and El Camino Road, diverting traffic across Page Mill Road to a different street that exited out on Stanford Avenue. With reports of grass fires starting in Berkeley, Oakland and Livermore, I thought there was a nearby grass fire in Palo Alto.

Conversations on the bus quickly turned real estate prices on Stanford Avenue, where the bungalows on tiny lots go for millions of dollars. A brand new house under construction won the “money to spend” award for having the second floor overhanging the first floor by two feet on one side. Like tourists on a tour bus in Hollywood, we gawked at the expensive home and shook our head in disgust.

The next morning I found out from a fellow passenger on the express bus that someone called in a bomb threat at HP. With most of the HP buildings on or just off of Page Mill Road, police shut down the whole street to check each building for bombs and snarling the afternoon commute for hours. It took me an extra two hours to get home.

I didn’t get called in on Thursday. The website that morning told me to check that afternoon, and then to check back on Friday morning. The next morning I checked the website at 11AM to discover that I’m released from jury duty and received a one year exemption from being summoned for jury duty. It’s one less thing to worry about for the next year.

My “Complicated” Work History At Google

Although the asshat who accused me of threatening to shoot him for six weeks has faded away, other asshats are popping up to replace him on Slashdot. One asshat posted comments not to my comments but to the comments that I replied to, but I periodically rechecked older threads and respond to each of those wayward comments. Another asshat complained about my weight (I’m 350 pounds — think football player), my diet (daily calorie intake is 1,500 calories), and why I haven’t committed suicide yet (I’m too sexy die young). One asshat in particular kept misrepresenting my work history with Google in multiple comments, as if I struck a nerve by working at Google. And perhaps I did. Let’s look at my “complicated” work history at Google.

Most people have the erroneous assumption that Google hires only “the best of the best of the best, sir!” (Men In Black) from the leading universities around the world. That’s true for direct hires like engineers and managers. (But maybe not for long, according to Fast Company, as tech companies hire tech workers without four-year degrees to fill their ranks.) Direct hires are a small part of Google. Everyone else who works at Google are hired through vendors for different functions throughout the company.

After I graduated from San Jose City College with an Associate of Science (A.S.) degree in computer programming and made the president’s list for maintaining a 4.0 GPA in my major, a vendor hired me for what was my first of several assignments in 2007-2008. A different vendor would hire me for several more assignments in 2011-12.

2007-2008

I’ve worked in the Google IT help desk call center for seven months from 2007 to 2008. For the first three months, I was in dispatch and routing 300+ tickets per day to the call center techs, fields techs or other groups like facilities. I’ve worked in the call center for the remaining four months, assisting users when I can, opening tickets when I can’t, and doing whatever I can remotely (i.e., installing software, opening network jacks with the correct VLAN, or adding hostnames to DNS). Since the average Googler gains 26 pounds from eating the free food and move their desk every three months, this was a high-paced environment that kept me busy for eight hours a day.

Since the vendor I worked for lost the call center contract to the Indian firm that managed the call centers for Google in India and Europe, a group of us worked in inventory for a month before transferring to a new assignment at eBay. Google at the time hired 300+ people per week. We got shipments of hardware in on Friday and Monday, got everything unboxed and put away by Tuesday, spent Wednesday prepping 300+ systems to go out the door, and loaded up the vans on Thursday mornings for deployment. Before we could take a breather, the cycle started all over again.

As a reward for my brief stint in inventory, I got a Kensington backpack that Google used to give to their new hires back then. Nine years later I’m still using that backpack, now flaying at the edges and falling apart from working all over Silicon Valley.

The Great Recession

I worked at eBay for 13 months before I got laid off on Friday the 13th, February 2009 (my supervisor let me pick the date from a list). That was the beginning of my journey as 99’er in the aftermath of the Great Recession, spending two years out of work (2009-2010), underemployed for six months (working 20 hours per month at a moving company), and filing for Chapter Seven bankruptcy in 2011. When my bankruptcy got finalized in July 2011, I had $25 left in my checking account and a new full-time job at a different vendor to become the lead tech of a PC refresh project at… eBay.

One of the phone guys at eBay gave me a hero’s welcome: “Jesus Christ, if HR let this guy back in, they will hire anyone off the streets.” 

For the next two years (2011-2013) I would work seven days a week to re-establish my finances. I’ve worked over 30+ assignment for three different vendors that competed for my availability. I had a regular Monday-Friday assignment, and a weekend assignment that sometimes starts on Friday nights. Assignments that lasted a week or more went on my resume, shorter assignment that lasted four hours to several days I didn’t bother to keep track.

That would bite me in the ass in 2014 when the two-hour background interview for the security clearance at my current tech job lasted four hours because I had to list every assignment since 2007. Unlike most Fortune 500 HR departments, government investigators checked out every reference and requested credit reports from all three reporting bureaus. They were quite thorough.

2011-2012

When the PC refresh project at eBay had a six-week lull after the holidays, a different vendor offered a one-month assignment at Google to build out a data center. I started working at Google the day after Christmas in December 2011 and finished at the end of January 2012. Unlike my experiences from working at the call center and in inventory, we sat around waiting for parts — servers, switches, routers, twisted-pair and fiber optics cables, odds and ends — to arrive in the morning and spent the afternoon installing everything into the racks.

When the data center got done, the manager took us over to the Google Store to buy something up to $25 in value (I got a pair of Google running shorts) and we had dinner at Building 51 (the former nickname for a sports bar at the edge of the Google campus). I went back to eBay to finish the PC refresh project.

A few months later I would come back to do a one-week cleanup at the data center. Besides throwing out the trash, consolidating equipment on multiple pallets into fewer pallets, and sweeping the floor, I also had to verify that the port mapping info in the spreadsheet was accurate, remove decommissioned servers from the rack, and relocate severs around the data center. Unlike last time, there was no trip to the Google Store or Building 51.

Sometimes being “the best of the best of the best, sir!” at Google is just rolling up your sleeves to do the jobs that no one else wants to do.

I Worked With A Murderer!

When I was a kid back in the early 1980’s, a teenager killed another teenager and hid the body in the foothills. The disappearance at that time, and the remains found several years later, was big news in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of several high-profile kidnappings and murders that prompted parents to keep their children indoors. Fast forward nearly 40 years later, a friend sent me the link to an old news article about the suspect arrested for that crime. The suspect in the perp walk photo was a former coworker whom I worked with for several years before he got fired, I thought, for being a douche bag. That wasn’t the whole story on his firing.

Unfortunately, I can’t share the article link to the article or the person’s name.

Although arrested and charged for the murder over a decade ago, the suspect was never tried as the case got thrown out of court for a lack of evidence—the murder weapon was never recovered—despite having a body and a confession. A person arrested but not convicted of a crime has a reasonable expectation to privacy despite the news media coverage. Or, maybe not. A recent court ruling for police taking DNA samples have implied that an arrestee  has “diminished expectations for privacy” as legal proceedings are public. Since I’m not familiar with intricacies of true crime writing (i.e., how to avoid being sued by someone who holds a grudge), I’ll be deliberately vague on the details to protect the innocent and the guilty.

The suspect and I started working together in IT support at the same time. Almost immediately he tried to put himself ahead of everyone else in a “Me! Me! Me!” attitude to impress the client—the company that hired the contracting agency to provide tech workers—in meetings, conference calls and emails. This insecurity, he told me, came from a deep need to avoid being unemployed again, which was understandable as everyone was still skittish years after the Great Recession. Except the “Me! Me! Me!” attitude never got dialed back as time went on and he never took the obvious hints from management to drop it.

Our first bump came when he accidentally rebooted the server that everyone logged into from our workstations. During the early days of the project, almost everyone rebooted the sever by accident while trying to reboot a remote system since the server wasn’t then properly configured to prevent admin users from rebooting it by accident. But he did it twice in one day. He never came forward to own his mistake. When the server owner checked the logs and fingered him in IM, he made excuses for why it happened—and those excuses went on for days. Everyone, including yours truly, roundly jeered him whenever the topic of accidental rebooting came up.

When I accidentally rebooted the server from a double-clicking mouse a month later, I contacted the server owner during the one-minute delay before the server rebooted, admitted my mea culpa to the team in IM (instant messenger), and replaced the double-clicking mouse. No one gave me grief for rebooting the server. The suspect complained loudly that he got treated unfairly because what I did was much worse than what he did. No one bought his story. That was the beginning of his reputation of being a douche bag.

When a team lead asked his group for volunteers to work with the suspect on an assignment a year-and-half later, no one wanted to work with him and everyone confessed that they didn’t like him. I felt compelled to write a long email to the project manager about all the problems I had with him. Two weeks later, he got fired. The funny thing was that no one told him that he got fired. According to coworkers on his team, he figured it out when his regular and admin Windows accounts  got deactivated, his badge stopped working, and the client refused to return his phone calls. Never did hear if security showed up to escort him out of the building.

The real reason he got fired, I recently learned, was an unknown coworker googled his name, came across the decade-old story about his arrest, and took the story to the client. The coworker got written up by the contracting agency for going to the client, but the coworker felt strongly enough that the client had to know who the suspect was. The client had a felony checkbox on the background check form (i.e., “Have you ever been arrested and/or convicted of a felony?”). The suspect, who didn’t live in a state like California with felony checkbox protections, failed to check the box and didn’t mention his arrest. That was enough to terminate his employment.

The N.D.A. In Silicon Valley Real Estate

As an information technology (I.T.) worker in Silicon Valley, I’ve signed many Non-Disclosure Agreements (N.D.A.s) over the years to keep secret anything that I learn during the course of my employment. Due to the nature of my work in I.T. support, I seldom have access to privilege information that an outsider might find valuable. I’m not surprise to read in The New York Times that the N.D.A. culture has come to real estate in Silicon Valley, as newly minted millionaires—or billionaire, in the case of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg—renovate their McMansions.

These powerful documents, demanding the utmost secrecy, are being required of anyone associated with the homes of a small but growing number of tech executives, according to real estate agents, architects and contractors. Sometimes the houses themselves are bought through trusts or corporate entities so that the owners’ names are not on public deeds.

Requiring construction workers to sign N.D.A.s raise more questions about who the owner is than it does to protect the owner’s privacy. Most N.D.A.s has a time limit. After several years goes by, nothing prevents a construction worker from revealing that the bathroom fixtures were solid gold, the kitchen counters were from handpicked marble slabs from Italy, and the multi-level garage has a car elevator. If wealthy owners want to maintain their privacy, they should dial down their public display of conspicuous consumption.

A 92-year-old Vermont man passed away recently, surprising family and friends when he left an $8 million stock portfolio to the local library and non-profit hospital. He drove around in a 2007 Toyota Yaris, collected tree branches for firewood, and held his winter coat together with a safety-pin. Because he lived a modest lifestyle that didn’t draw unwanted attention, no one knew he was wealthy.

My father built the planter walls for the million-dollar homes in the Silver Creek Valley area. The conspicuous consumption offended his Great Depression sensibilities with so much money wasted on so few people. That the city of San Jose spent $200 million to extend water and sewer into the arid foothills offended my own sensibilities. If you throw enough campaign contributions at city hall, you too can get taxpayer money to run water uphill. We both gloated over the news that the homeowner association nearly filed for bankruptcy after the Great Recession, as the million-dollar homes stood empty and the remaining residents balked at paying higher fees to maintain the common areas.

My brother’s in-laws bought a million-dollar home in the foothills of Gilroy, which I thought was obscene. The kitchen was larger than my studio apartment, and the wet bar was bigger than my kitchen. The in-laws bought the five-bedroom house to store family heirloom furniture that they couldn’t depart with but weren’t using anyway. Since they didn’t want to spend their retirement years cleaning a big house, they sold the house in a short sale and moved their furniture collection to a farmstead outside of Boston. The only cool thing I liked about that house was the 30-foot-tall wired fence that kept a prowling mountain cat away from the BBQ pit.

Spaghetti-less At Costco

My barometer for when the economy is doing better is when I can afford to renew my Costco membership. This month I got the chance to do that and get some bulk items that I needed, such as the chocolate-chip muffins (dozen), garbage bags (90-count) and fish oil pills (500-count). The one thing that I wasn’t able to find was an eight-pack of spaghetti. The two local Costco stores had spaghetti sauce and Parmesan cheese, but no spaghetti to complete the meal.

My favorite Costco is on Coleman Ave in San Jose. Driving there is a bit tricky if you miss the left-hand turn off to the side street for the parking lot entrance. Miss the left-hand turn off and drive past Costco, you’re on the ramp to De La Cruz Boulevard that goes straight into downtown Santa Clara, where returning to Coleman wasn’t a simple U-turn due to the keeping driving straight signs. Getting out of the street maze of Santa Clara is a trick in itself.

Although I haven’t been at this location for several years, the store layout hasn’t changed much and I found the items I was looking for. Except for the spaghetti. I found the spaghetti sauce, Parmesan cheese, and the other pasta that goes better with Alfredo sauce. I walked up and down the food aisles looking for spaghetti.

Was spaghetti a seasonal item at Costco?

The Costco store in Sunnyvale is at the intersection of Lawrence Expressway and the Caltrain tracks that didn’t intersect. You have to make a tricky right-hand U-turn from Lawrence to get into the parking lot. If you want to practice your Christmas holiday shopping parking skills, come here as the parking lot is always full, the drivers are always ruthless and shoppers with their carts are always in the way.

I haven’t been to this particular location since my parents retired to Sacramento in the early 1990’s. The store layout has changed since then, and organized much differently than the Coleman store. Once I got into the food aisles, I found the Spaghetti sauce and Parmesan cheese. Still no spaghetti. There was an empty space that a pallet of spaghetti could go into. This store was so busy that I couldn’t find an employee to check the loading dock to see if such a pallet came in.

How can Costco sell Spaghetti sauce and Parmesan cheese without the spaghetti? No clue.

The BART Video Game Arcade (Circa 1976)

Gary Fong / The Chronicle
Gary Fong / The Chronicle / December 1, 1976

While at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple personality disorders), I had to trained fresh out of high school graduates on being video game testers. These youngsters didn’t believe I played video games in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. So I introduced them to a tester who tested video games for the original Atari in the 1980’s, and then introduced them to a tester who tested pen-and-paper games in the 1970’s. Their young heads often exploded in amazement that video games existed before the Sony PlayStation in 1995. As further proof that early video games existed, SFGate recently noted that the Powell Street BART Station installed video arcade games in 1976.

The first time I ever played a video game was Atari Pong in the basement of the Sear’s building in downtown San Jose—where the Midtown Safeway is today—during the Bicentennial (1975/76). I was five- or six-years-old at the time. My mother was returning something at the exchange desk. My father slipped a quarter into the arcade machine and we played a short game. Several years later I got a TV pong game for Christmas, the first of several early video game consoles that would prepare me for the working world.

Most arcade machines were hidden away in pizza parlors, bowling alleys and public venues like the BART station throughout the 1970’s. Arcades with wall-to-wall machines didn’t happen until the early 1980’s. The arcade that I grew up in was at Oakridge Mall in South San Jose. A dark hole in the wall that sucked in kids and their quarters like nothing else, and quickly doubled in size after taking over the storefront next door. This was my favorite after school activity.

My parents didn’t approve that I split my weekly allowance—a princely $30 USD that I didn’t know was a small fortune for a teenager—between the arcade and the bookstore. Video games were much worse than the pinball machines that they grew up on. Reading inspires all kinds of subversive behaviors, such as being smarter than anyone else. On the bright side, I wasn’t buying drugs like so many of friends who got stoned out of their mind in class.

After the Atari E.T. cartridge scandal killed the video game revolution, the wall-to-wall arcades started fading away in popularity. Newer video game consoles and PC’s brought the video games back into the home. Arcade machines are still tucked away at various locations today. The only real arcades left in Silicon Valley are Chuck E. Cheese’sDave & Buster’s or Nickel City. I don’t play arcade machines anymore, as any five-year-old youngster can beat my sorry ass with faster reflexes.

Riding The Hotel 22 Bus

[iframe src=”//player.vimeo.com/video/100290798″ width=”640″ height=”480″]

When I started my new tech job six months ago, I initially took the 522 from San Jose to Palo Alto that ran the same route as the 22 and makes 75% fewer stops to get across the valley faster. This portion of my two-hour trip each way to work took 45 minute. As the weather got colder, the presence—and the overwhelming smell—of the homeless became more prevalent. Although I knew that the homeless rode the 22 around the clock, I didn’t know it had the nickname of “Hotel 22” until I read The New York Times op-ed piece by Elizabeth Lo on her new documentary by the same name.

Silicon Valley has three different kinds of buses that get workers from the outlying areas of the San Francisco Bay Area to their jobs in Silicon Valley, the Peninsula, Oakland or San Francisco. I’ve ridden on all three buses over the last 15 years as a computer technician in Silicon Valley.

Local buses crisscross the county to connect people from their homes to the major transit centers and thoroughfares for local companies. Minimum wage workers, techies and homeless people all mingled together, the 22 being the most obvious example. A monthly bus pass for Santa Clara County is $70 USD.

Commuter buses connect major transit centers to job-concentrated areas that are typically inaccessible without a vehicle (i.e., no sidewalks back to civilization). Some commuter and express buses are WiFi-enabled to allow Internet access via cellphone and tablets. You’re less likely to find minimum wage workers and the homeless on these buses, as the fastest routes are twice as expensive. A monthly express bus pass in Santa Clara County cost $140 USD.

Tech buses stop at major transit centers and thoroughfares to take them directly to each campus building. These luxury buses features faster WiFi connections, comfortable seats and sometimes a restroom. Access restricted to workers with company badges. Free for full-time employees, and, depending on the company, a nominal fee for contractors. No minimum wage workers or homeless allowed on these buses. These buses made the news when protesters in San Francisco and Oakland rioted against Google buses in 2013.

After riding the 522 for two months, I switched to an express bus that cut my overall commute to an hour each way. I drove the 280/85 freeway route to Mountain View for many years, suffering 45 minutes in the morning and 90 minutes in the evening. Driving beyond the 280/85 interchange to Page Mill Road in Palo Alto is much worse. I’m happy to pay someone else to drive while I read an ebook, listen to an audio book or take a snooze. Yes, like many of my fellow techies, I don’t miss dealing with the homeless or their overwhelming smell.

Some people get outraged that Silicon Valley, being richest society in America, can’t take care of the homeless. As I pointed out in the comment on The New York Times website, Californians love to vote on initiatives and propositions that decrease their taxes and increase their services. This is true for most Americans. Everyone wants services; no one wants to pay for it. Until that change, nothing else will change. Something to look forward to as baby boomers retire and the workforce shrinks in the next quarter-century.

Coaching VTA Bus Drivers On Their Routes

VTAOne of the more curious sights at the start of the New Year was seeing VTA bus drivers studying a small handbook like monks examining scriptures. Whenever the bus pulled into a new stop, and the passengers finished boarding and departing, the driver pulls out the handbook to study the opened page for a moment. What’s the handbook? After several incidents where the passengers coached the drivers on driving their routes, the handbook listed the driving directions for all the bus routes. Some of those printed directions weren’t very accurate.

Since I started my new non-writing tech job six months ago, I liked my new commute of taking a five-minute local bus from my home, taking a 20-minute express bus to Palo Alto, and a five-minute local bus to my job. With 30 minutes of waiting between connections, it takes an hour each way. This is perhaps the most efficient route I have ever taken to work on the public transit.

The express bus had a new driver for Thursday and Friday afternoons. Like many drivers I’ve seen, he had a handbook nearby. He also had several 3×5 cards taped to the dashboard with handwritten directions. Leaving Palo Alto via Page Mill Road to southbound 280 was uneventful. When it came time to take the freeway loop for the Fruitdale Avenue stop, the driver drove past the southbound Meridian Avenue exit and took the northbound Meridian Avenue exit.

I leaned forward from my seat. “You missed the exit.”

“For real?” the driver said, dismayed. He glanced at his 3×5 cards. “The handbook says northbound exit.”

“Your handbook has a misprint.”

Everyone else in the bus became backseat driver and shouted directions at the driver. Most of those directions were wildly inconsistent for a confused driver unfamiliar with this part of San Jose. Being the closest person to the driver, I spoke up over the din behind me and directed the driver to take a loop-de-loop around the 280 on local streets to get to Meridian Avenue. The driver became more confident as the backseat drivers agreed with my directions and stopped offering alternative directions..

After the driver stopped at the morning bus stop for the express bus (the afternoon bus stop was across the street in the opposite direction), he crossed out “southbound” and wrote “northbound” for Meridian Avenue on his 3×5 cards. He hasn’t made that mistake again since learning his new route.

The local bus in Palo Alto never has the same bus driver in the morning. My coworkers and I often have to coach the new driver on the route. The location of where I get off from the express bus to pick up the local bus in Palo Alto is at an intersection in the foothills, a middle-of-nowhere place filled with rich joggers and poor jackrabbits. Most drivers don’t expect to find people waiting for a bus out here in the morning, and, if running behind schedule, will bypass this leg of the route to make up time.

One driver tried to drive on without picking me up. After I got into the street with both hands waving (this typically happens during a rainstorm), and my coworkers from inside the bus shouted at the driver to stop, I ran down the block to get on the bus. The driver told me that she didn’t pick up passengers at that stop. I told her to look up the handbook. She discovered that my stop was a time-point stop listed in the schedule—and she was ten minutes late.

Despite each bus having a GPS system that list turn-by-turn directions for each route, the drivers consulted their handbooks at each bus stop for the first two weeks of the New Year. Except for the local bus in Palo Alto which always has a different driver each morning, the drivers know their new routes as coached by the passengers.

Recycling That Mainframe Computer

The leasing office occasionally sends out a missive that gets taped to the front door of each apartment in the complex. Sometimes this makes for interesting reading. One such missive a few years ago about what can or cannot be flushed down the toilets implied that recreational sex (condoms), having babies (diaper wipes) and being a woman (tampons) will no longer be permissible behavior. (I wrote a 500-word flash story, “Circling The Drain,” around that particular premise.) A recent missive had a list of recyclable items to turn into the leasing office for an e-waste recycling drive. One item popped out on the list: Mainframe computers.

When I worked as a quality assurance software testing intern at Fujitsu in the 1990’s, our virtual world division got a new vice president from Japan who previously worked for the mainframe division. He took our group out to Jade Cathay restaurant on First Street in San Jose to get to know us. When the hostess handed him the menu, he ordered the same stir fry with tofu dish for everyone. Somehow I ended up sitting next to him. Not wanting to offend my host, I ate everything on my plate even though I never had Chinese before. We all suffered a severe case of massive heart burn later on, as that dish was very spicy.

He asked me if I was a mainframe programmer, and became disappointed when I told him that I wasn’t. (I didn’t volunteer that I was only an intern.) He asked around the table if anyone else was a mainframe programmer. No one else was. He informed us that Fujitsu was always looking for mainframe programmers. That statement puzzled everyone, as our group had nothing to do with mainframes. A month later he returned to Japan to lead the mainframe group again and got replaced by a more Westernized vice president who wasn’t looking for mainframe programmers.

Despite the popular misconception that mainframe computers are obsolete and long gone, they’re still around for processing massive amounts of data that can’t fit into the cloud. One of the hottest I.T. job market is for mainframe programmers who know COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language). With the previous generation retiring, and many colleges stopped teaching mainframe computers years ago, there’s an acute shortage of skilled workers.

Unlike other areas of I.T., you can’t simply download a mainframe computer to your desktop and grab a book to learn how to program it. You need the actual room-sized hardware to get any practical experience. Most large companies that depend on mainframe computers are training programmers in-house. There’s no practical way to learn mainframe programming on your own.

Needless to say, no one turned in a mainframe computer at the leasing office.

The Video Game Industry Sexism

[youtube url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYqYLfm1rWA]

Anita Sarkeesian has a video web series, Feminist Frequency, that picks apart the sexual stereotypes in video games and pop culture. Her most recent video, “Ms. Male Character – Tropes vs Women,” is a delightfully entertaining look at two predominant tropes in video games: the female character is always an extension of the male character, and most video games feature only one female character among the many male characters. Unfortunately, her work has drawn death and rape threats for pointing out the obvious sexism in video games. Having worked at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple identity crisis), it doesn’t surprise me that nothing has changed in the ten years since I left the video game industry.

The Q.A. department I worked in for six years always had at least one or two female testers. They were good enough to become lead testers, but they never stayed longer than a few years. Most got tired of the relentless 80-hours-per-week crunch time and left on their own initiative to find better work elsewhere.

Some female testers got fired because of their sex.

  • A female lead tester got fired for calling a male tester an asshole for not doing the work that she assigned him. She shouldn’t have said that loud enough for everyone in the department to hear. One bruised male ego went scurrying to HR for comfort. What HR didn’t take into consideration was that everyone else regarded that particular male tester as an asshole as well.
  • A female tester and a male tester got into trouble for making out during the company event to see “Star Wars: Attack of The Clones” at the AMC Mercado 20. That raised some eyebrows. What got them fired was jeopardizing the code release date for my project by falsifying the test data before and after the movie. Screwing around during a bad movie was one thing, jeopardizing the code release date was something else.
  • A female tester got fired for being a “poor” tester. That’s the official reason. I was the only lead tester who offered to provide her with more training. My supervisor later admitted that some male testers didn’t want to work with her because she wasn’t that good-looking from the chicken pox scarring on her face.

If this environment seems familiar, it’s the classic high school locker room. The only women who excelled in this environment are tomboys who aren’t afraid of asserting themselves without being too feminine. The underlying culture of sexism won’t change until the gender ratio in the video game industry changes to influence the development process for new video games.

Century 21 Dome Theater Saved By City Council

San Jose City HallSupporters of Save The Domes gathered at the Tuesday evening session of the San Jose City Council to plead for the protection of the 50-year-old building from demolition. On a seven-to-four vote, the council designated the Century 21 as a historical landmark. The developer can file a demolition plan to raze the other dome theaters, but must incorporate the Century 21 into the new mixed-urban development. No guarantees that the developer will keep it as a working theater. That’s the short version.

My friend and I drove downtown to attend the 7:00PM council session, arriving at the nearby public parking garage where the city keeps it fleet of vehicles, and walking a block over from Fifth Street. This was my first visit to the “new” city hall building since opening in 2005. I previously visited the old city hall on North 1st Street, part of the county government civic center that the county plans to renovate in the future, when my older brother had a shotgun wedding at the hall of justice in the 1970’s.

While my friend walked over to Subway for a sandwich, I walked down memory lane while wandering around the plaza. As a college student living downtown in the mid-1990, I used to shop at Lucky’s and eat at Taco Bell that previously occupied this one-and-half block stretch on Santa Clara Street and Fifth Street. It’s now all gone. San Jose State University is a few blocks away, where the eight-story Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. library is visible above the two-story buildings between city hall and the campus.

The city council chamber wasn’t in the rotunda building on the plaza, as one would imagine when pulling on the locked front doors. The circular floor space under the ten-story ceiling was empty. Not surprisingly, this space was reserved for private events. When the Bascom Avenue library opened last year, the library was smaller than I expected and the larger community center was available for private events as well. For a fee, of course. The city has to make a buck somewhere.

Walking past the rotunda building to the left will take you to a ground-level entrance for the restrooms and elevators. You can also walk up the narrow stairway next to the tower building that house the city bureaucracy or the broad stairway that borders the plaza to the second floor entrance. The public entrance to the city council opened to a university-style auditorium with seats sloping down from the second floor to the first floor.

The city council session opened light-heartedly with commendations by the mayor for several citizens who served the city in one way or another for 25 years, including a Boy Scout troop leader who brought out his troop. After pictures got taken and the boy scouts cleared out, more people came in to occupy the empty seats. The city council got down to business. We sat through two-hours of mind-numbing discussions about various public planning proposals. People got up to speak for or against, left the council chamber, and more people took their empty seats.

We left at 9:00PM to catch “The Wil Wheaton Project” on TV. On the way home we drove past the Century Domes on Winchester, where a single outdoor light illuminated the front doors of the Century 21 and the two other dome theaters shrouded in the darkness. The city council voted on the Century 21 historical landmark at about 10:30PM. After two mind-numbing hours watching democracy in action (sausage making would be more entertaining), I don’t think I could have survived another 90 minutes.