Picture this: Hundreds of thousands of people are crammed shoulder to shoulder on the Golden Gate Bridge when suddenly the bridge’s gentle arch begins to flatten out. A metal groan then echoes across San Francisco Bay as the majestic towers begin tilting toward each other.
As the towers hit their breaking point, the 3-foot-thick main suspension cables slacken and the roadway splits open, dropping waves of pedestrians more than 200 feet to their deaths.
That almost happened 25 years ago today, at least according to urban legend.
On May 24, 1987, 300,000 people were stuck in human gridlock for hours while getting a rare chance to cross the 1.7-mile bridge en masse on foot to celebrate the bridge’s golden anniversary. Officials quickly closed the bridge, so a half-million other people waiting to cross never got the chance. Still, the enormous, unprecedented weight caused the middle of the bridge to sag 7 feet.
Engineers were kicking themselves that day for not anticipating this historic event and putting sensors on the bridge to measure the flattening out effect. The current generation of engineers have a hard enough time maintaining the bridge throughout the years.
As my father liked to tell me when I was growing up, the Golden Gate Bridge could never be built today. A worker died for every one-million-dollar spent was the norm back in the 1930’s. Although today’s safety and environmental laws could prevent a worker’s death, a barrage of lawsuits that could delay a project indefinitely could come about before the project even gets off the drawing board. The California high speed rail is a good example of that.
What the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge means today is that America has become a nation of small ideas, where the big ideas like a building a bridge across the treacherous Golden State Strait is a monument to our past.
Pegasus Global Holdings plans to build a new city in the New Mexico desert that will feature all the latest technologies you can expect if you were to build a city from scratch: renewable solar/wind energy, a desalination and water purification plant, airport and train stations, a downtown with four- to six-story buildings, suburban neighborhoods, farming, secured borders and high-speed wireless Internet.
How many people will live in this city of the future? Zero.
The new city is meant to be a testbed for new technologies that normally can’t test in an established urban environment as people would get in the way. I can understand in theory why a simulated test environment would be needed. However, real life with real people is supposed to be messy. Technology developed in the simulated world often go awry in the real world as unanticipated scenarios unfold to screw things up.
Having read too much bad science fiction in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, I can’t help to think that maybe this project is a prelude to the mile-high city states where the 1% ruled from the penthouses, the 99% worked the lower levels, and sentient computers run everything else. American society is ripe to make this happen.
Some of the most obsessive people in Silicon Valley are the toy collectors who stock their cubes with hundreds of Star Trek or Star Wars action figures that cover every square inch of counter space. These people appear normal if they were away from their cubes, often holding important positions within a company. But once they sit down in their cubicles to be surrounded by hundreds of adoring action figures like a messianic cult leader, they are no longer normal people.
One Silicon Valley executive took this obsession too far by slapping fake bar codes on Lego toys to buy them at a steep discount from Target stores to sell on eBay, making $30,000 USD in the last year.
Thomas Langenbach, a vice president at the software company SAP Labs in Palo Alto, crafted fake bar codes and pasted them over the real thing on Lego packages in Target stores, Santa Clara County prosecutors said. The fakes gave Langenbach a steep discount, prosecutors said.
After purchasing the Legos, Langenbach allegedly sold them for a profit on eBay. At least some of the Legos were valuable collectors items featuring “Star Wars” characters, prosecutors said.
Hundreds of unopened Lego boxes were found in Langenbach’s San Carlos home, authorities said.
When I was a lead tester at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple identity crisis), an action figure disappeared from the desk of a PR flack. An angry email was sent out to everyone that challenged the thief to steal the red cape that went along with that particular action figure. A few hours later, the red cape was gone. The PR flack went so far as to install motion-controlled cameras inside his cube. The thief was never caught. Naturally, the testers were blamed for this. When the PR department moved down to Southern California, so did the thief as the action figures kept disappearing.
When I become serious as a writer in 2006, I opened a P.O. box at the Parkmoor post office at Meridian and Parkmoor Avenues in San Jose, CA. Every six weeks I would drop off a dozen manila envelopes containing my short story manuscripts and picked up more postage for the next round of submissions. With 50 manuscripts in circulation at any given time, this was my regular routine. As email submissions became more common and my short stories were published more frequently over the last few years, I no longer needed an expenisve P.O. box for what little snail mail I was getting.
The postal service consolidated mail sorting operations to cut costs last year. The Parkmoor station no longer sorted mail for the 95128 zip code, no longer needed a fleet of mail trucks in the fenced off parking lot, and no longer needed 30,000 square feet. If you have to pick up your mail, you have to go to the Willow Glen post office a few miles down the street on Meridian Avenue. The Moorpark post office recently moved into a 3,000 square feet store front in a little strip mall around the corner.
A billboard went up at the front of the old post office to announce that Savers, a thrift store, was now hiring, the chain link fence around the side parking lot went down, and construction crews start gutting out the inside of the old post office. FoodMaxx also started renovating the inside of their store, and a bigger sign will replace the old one above the entrance outside. Re-opening the side parking lot to the general public will absorb the overflow of motorcyclists when the Harley-Davidson store next door has its summer events.
The new Parkmoor post office has limited parking in front, a walk up mailbox that you can’t drive past to drop off mail, and a narrow hallway for the lobby and P.O. boxes. The retail store is similar to those popping up at the shopping malls, with enough space for a pair of retail associates (i.e., postal clerks) behind the counter and no space in front of the counter for customers. The holiday shipping rush will be pure madness as the lines will snake around the strip mall and into the parking lot.
As the postal service continues to cut cost, customer service continues to get cut as well. If I was looking for a new P.O. box, I would use the postal service website to shop around for the best price—$15 USD to $28 USD for three months for the smallest box—at a post office that wasn’t located inside a sardine can. The new Parkmoor post office would be at the bottom of my list.
Construction workers at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose discovered 15 pine coffins from a pauper’s cemetery during excavation that halted work on a new medical building in February. The cemetery was established when the county hospital was built in 1875, marked on a 1932 map as a cemetery and unmarked on a 1958 map as a parking lot. An estimated 1,450 coffins might be in the way of another new medical building to be built. The county is taking legal steps to remove the cemetery. If they can’t identify the next of kin, the the remains will be cremated and scattered over the ocean.
I wasn’t surprised that an old pauper’s cemetery was paved over by progress. Paving over the old for the new is de reigueur in the San Francisco Bay Area.
After I turned 18-years-old in the late 1980’s, I worked in masonry construction with my father in San Francisco since I had nothing better as I was a high school dropout. We had this one job in Chinatown where a backhoe operator digging a trench broke open an old sewer line made from red clay ceramic pipe. We gathered around to see this buried piece of ancient history four feet below street level, standing across from an alley that ran behind a bunch of Chinese stores that smelled worse than an open sewer. My father and the other superintendents discussed the history of using ceramic pipes in sewer construction.
After El Camino Real was re-routed around Santa Clara University, construction crews tore out the roadway that divided the campus in the half. Underneath two feet of asphalt were old railroad tracks. I mentioned this to my father. He told me that a trolley line used to run down the middle of El Camino Road from San Francisco to San Jose before World War II. Prior to the modern freeway system being built after the war, El Camino Real was the only the way to San Francisco.
Sometimes it’s not always the old that gets paved over in the name of progress. After San Carlos Street that ran through San Jose State University was torn out for a grass meridian, the county transit authority had the concrete foundation for a east-west light rail line built down the middle and buried underneath six inches of dirt. Unless money pours from the sky after the Facebook IPO, the half-dozen east-west light rail lines to connect with the existing north-south light rail lines will never be built. We’re still waiting for the BART extension to San Jose to be built a generation later.
Before my father passed away a few weeks ago, I started a new tech job at a different hospital to replace old computers. My work area is located around the corner from the morgue. Whenever the scent of vanilla hangs heavily in the hallway outside, a dead body was delivered to the morgue. These days I see dead people everywhere.
If you seen “The Social Network,” Saverin provided the funding for the early days of Facebook before being screwed over by the other co-founders because he didn’t read the fine print of the legal paperwork that gave away his ownership in the company. Now that the big payday is around the corner to turn his 4% ownership into a multi-billion-dollar fortune, he’s screwing over the taxpayers in California and the United States by leaving the country. In short, he’s a schmuck.
If you become rich enough to join the 1% club in the United States, you now have the option to become a member of the stateless rich to live wherever in the world without being beholden to any particular community that requires your “hard earned” money for services, infrastructure and schools. Maybe the price for renouncing your American citizenship should be leaving your fortune at the border. If you came into the world penniless, you can leave the country the same way.
When three or more political flyers started showing up in my mail box everyday for over a week, I wasn’t surprised to see the mail-in ballot arriving for the June election. As a registered Republican in California (I’m a moderate, not a tea bagger), I wasn’t thrilled with the uninspiring slate of presidential candidates. I wrote in the name of the only candidate I could vote for: “None Of The Above.”
If you seen “The Avengers” during the opening weekend last week, you probably saw the trailer for “The Expendables 2” with a large cast of 1980’s action hero movie stars reliving their glory days. One such action hero was a cigar-chomping Arnold Schwarzenegger announcing, “I’m back!” (An obvious double entrendre to his most famous line—”I’ll be back”—from “Terminator” and his long absence from starring in the movies while governor of California.) The audience I was with laughed and cheered at his appearance, heralding the arrival of more popcorn movies in the near future. California’s favorite maid-banging action hero is back.