Posts Tagged ‘Rant’

New BART trains don’t address boarding issue

March 8th, 2014

The new BART train cars will have lots of improvements over the current ones. But there’s one boarding issue that they didn’t quite tackle.

See what’s missing from their design, as pictured above?

You may have to take a step back, so to speak, in order to notice. Consider how people board BART trains: commuters and other frequent riders wait in a line or small group on the station platform near where the train’s doors stop when it pulls into the station. Generally they let other passengers off first before anyone gets on.

Or at least, they try to. On current BART trains it’s difficult to tell if there’s someone waiting to exit before you get on, because the trains are designed like this:

Now Boarding

As you can see from Todd Lappin’s above photo, there aren’t windows next to the doors. This means you can be standing on the platform, unable to see an exiting passenger before you try to board. Not exactly a well thought out design.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Van Ness Muni Metro Station

As the above photo by Roshan Vyas illustrates, even when Muni Metro’s doors are open you can still see the people inside. You can wait for them to get off before shoving your way on — or not, like certain impolite Muni passengers at rush hour. But either way at least there isn’t a wall at a crucial point in the train car exterior.

BART’s new trains narrow this boarding blind spot, but they don’t eliminate it. Look at all this wasted space:

I understand there needs to be a place for a map and maybe some ads on the trains, but this isn’t the place for it. There shouldn’t be a need to pick between faster boarding and information — both goals are attainable without sacrificing one for the other.

It’s a trap! Why American bathrooms don’t smell awful

October 24th, 2012

Why European bathrooms stink

Above: a sink with no trap


Do you ever get up in the morning, head to the bathroom, take a nice deep breath and proclaim, “Gee, I’m sure glad my bathroom doesn’t smell like shit!”

Of course not. Because as an American, you live in a country where bathrooms only smell terrible after someone has recently defecated.

What you may not realize is that most of the world isn’t so lucky. In fact, even modern European countries have bathrooms that smell absolutely terrible at all times. The smell often noticeably makes its way to the rest of the building, and I say this as someone who’s hard of smelling.

So why is America different? IT’S A TRAP!

Ever since British plumbing guru Thomas Crapper invented the U-shaped “trap,” pretty much every sink drain in the US has used his design. Go look under a sink and see for yourself.

The purpose of this invention is to contain a small amount of water in the U section that air cannot escape through. This prevents foul gas from the sewers from rising into your house and making your bathroom stink.

For some reason in much of Europe, Mexico, etc. the trap never gained much traction. Instead, people prefer to save a couple bucks on plumbing (see above photo) and pretend that the disgusting sewer smell is normal.

There’s plenty of things I’ll never understand about the rest of the world. This is #1 on that list.

A better way to fix our gadgets

September 18th, 2012

Until now, the process for solving technical problems involved Googling around for advice on forum posts and help pages.

The advice is always the same, isn’t it?

  1. Follow an obscure sequence of commands.
  2. Now try again.
  3. If there’s comments on the page, at least a dozen will have conflicting reports about the outcome of these steps.
  4. If it doesn’t work, go back to Google and look around some more.

Of course the tech geeks could be messing with you. By following the advice your TV won’t turn off and your wedding photos are permanently deleted. Who knows.

Fortunately there’s now a better way to solve basic technical problems; devices that STFU when you smack them. Microsoft has invented the first phone you can physically abuse when you need it to just shut up for a minute so you can think for once, goddamn it.

I’d suspect that if this feature seems intuitive, you shouldn’t have kids. But then again people have been smacking their TVs for decades so the gesture is already in our collective consciousness. And who wouldn’t want a TV that stops breaking when you hit it?

Besides, not all emotionally responsive technology needs to involve violence. How about a flashlight that turns up the brightness when you’re shaking in terror? Or cars that soothe anxious drivers with relaxing music to prevent road rage? Or a bathroom scale that subtracts some weight if the user is crying?

There’s all kinds of ways our gadgets could be made fixable that don’t involve following the advice of strangers online. Get with it, tech companies.

And let me know when you have a computer that works better when I start cursing under my breath and slamming on the keyboard. I’ll be first in line to buy it.

Did Captain Picard have sex with Q?

September 4th, 2012

There’s a funny scene in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Tapestry” where Captain Picard wakes up in bed next to Q.

The characters have the following dialog (copied from here):

			Good morning, darling.

	Picard jerks back in shock. Q smiles as Picard grabs
	his uniform and begins to dress.

			A little jumpy this morning, are
			we? Feeling guilty perhaps?

			I don't have anything to feel
			guilty about, Q.

			"We were friends, Q. Nothing

			You're the one who gave me the
			opportunity to change things...

			So what happens next?

	Picard thinks for a beat.

			I don't know. But I do know that
			things will be different.

	Q looks at him for a beat.

			I'm sure.

What’s important to understand here is the context of the scene. It’s implied that Picard just had sex with Marta, a female friend he’d fallen out of touch with years ago.

Or did they really have sex? It’s not clear any of what’s happening here is entirely real.

The backstory is that Picard died, and while on the operating table he wakes up in an all-white room. Who should be standing there but Q, an annoying man who has god-like powers but spends his time tormenting people.

Q gives Picard a choice: stay here and you’ll probably die, or I’ll take you back in time so that you can change the past to avoid death.

Picard’s choice is obvious, despite the fact that he doesn’t believe anything Q has to say; after finding Q standing over him in the afterlife, Picard quips that Q can’t be here because “The universe is not that badly designed.”

In spite of his initial misgivings Picard relives his past and makes new choices to allegedly prevent his death. One of those choices is having a relationship with Marta.

But is Picard’s initial instinct correct? Is Q messing with him?

A.V. Club’s Zack Handlen points out three ways to interpret Q’s offer:

[1] Q insists to Picard that what we’re seeing is the actual past, instead of a construct […]
[2] [T]he easiest being that nothing that happens here is really “real” at all, that all of it is created by Q to teach Picard to accept that the man he was is responsible for the man he is,
[3] or else it’s just Picard having a death-bed hallucination.

Handlen finds the second option most likely. While the setup is reminiscent of the Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol,” throwing Q into the mix complicates the scenario. I agree with Handlen’s reasoning — rather than pure Dickens-style fantasy, this seems to be all Q’s doing. It’s entirely in character for Q to mess with Picard’s mind by creating meaningless choices like this, and the episode seems to bear this theory out.

So if Picard had a sexual encounter in Q’s recreation of the past then who did Picard have sex with? Marta couldn’t have been there, so did he have sex with some kind of recreation of her? Or did Picard essentially have sex with Q?

Now look, I’m not saying Picard is gay. And as far as I can tell Q is asexual (though he gets off on tormenting people.) But that doesn’t mean Q can’t summon sex partners from his own mind. Presumably Q would have to animate the people he creates in some way. In the context of Q replacing his facsimile of Marta with himself when Picard woke up, Q’s dialog (as above) seems intentionally flirtatious. The question is then of whether Q was the one behind Marta’s mask or whether it was Picard’s vision of her that brought her to life.

If we go with the theory that Picard fell into Q’s trap, then what does that say about Q’s actions? Did Q rape Picard physically (rather than mentally) this time? Or by finally buying into Q’s world, did Picard effectively submit to Q’s advances?

As with any fiction the story’s questions are ultimately up to the audience. A show like TNG gives the audience plenty of questions, but few seem so directly targeted at those writing slash fiction.

False alarms: how the city should have responded

August 30th, 2012

On Sunday, the entire city heard the warning system (“air raid” siren”) that’s normally tested on Tuesdays at noon. Apparently this was due to human error.

Which is fine, really. People make mistakes.

What is NOT fine was what they did next: nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Instead of using the AlertSF system to notify people that the alarm was a mistake, they sat on their asses and fielded calls from (rightfully) confused residents, who were in fact told specifically NOT to call — we’ll get to that in a moment.

It doesn’t help that the voice message played after the alarm is muddled and incomprehensible. If it was audible we would have heard the “This is just a test” message to let us know everything was cool. But we didn’t.

The city’s official page for the outdoor warning system helpfully explains what to do in this situation.

If you hear the siren at a time other than its regular test on Tuesday at noon:

  • Stop what you are doing.
  • Stay calm.
  • Listen for possible voice announcements.
  • Turn on the radio or television, (such as KCBS 740AM, KQED 88.5 FM) for important information provided by the City.
  • Avoid using the telephone. Do not call 9-1-1, unless you have a life-threatening emergency.

In other words, listen to a voice you can’t hear or turn on a radio or TV in a town where everybody has Hulu Plus and iPods. Hmm, yeah about that. The last bullet point is particularly troubling since apparently the city got quite a few calls, meaning many folks didn’t follow these rules and/or were not aware of them.

Here’s my advice to the city in the future:

  1. Stop using the alarm to indicate things that aren’t related to emergencies. Haven’t you ever heard of the boy who cried wolf?
  2. When the alarm is set off by mistake, immediately post a message to AlertSF letting us know it was a mistake.
  3. Turn the voice message on the alarm off, since an alarm followed by a muffled message is more confusing that just an alarm.
  4. Come up with a more realistic set of guidelines for what to do when the alarm goes off that don’t involve antiquated technology like radio. Then take the time to publicize this list so people don’t flood the phone lines with questions.
  5. Train the employees responsible for the alarm so they know how to use it.

Seem reasonable? If the city can’t be trusted to use the alarm in a sensible way, we need to scrap it.

Pigeon undaunted by owl statue

May 11th, 2012

Pigeon undaunted by owl statue

Call me crazy, but I kinda like pigeons. They’re simple, awkward creatures that — despite the bad press they get — don’t really hurt anyone.

And yes, I’d probably feel differently if I owned a car.

While we may sit back and laugh at the apparent stupidity of the pigeons, sometimes I question whether we’re any less stupid. After all, our attempts to dissuade them with owl statues are never effective. If we’re so smart, shouldn’t we have learned this by now?

(Pigeon spotted at Capp and 16th.)

Things San Franciscans despise: filth

May 7th, 2012

Most visitors would be shocked to learn that San Franciscans hate filth.

Ours is a city that doesn’t want to stay clean, but we try our best. Some cleaning accomplishments we’re especially proud of include:

  • We require restaurants to display a hygiene score card.
  • We have a number to call for park and sidewalk cleaning.
  • We heavily fine anyone who dares block our street cleaning vehicles’ precise schedule.

Yes, we live in moldy old buildings. Yes, the entire city often smells terrible. And yes, that’s human urine on your car door. Sorry, I should have told you not to park here.

Tourists don’t recognize our little obsession with cleanliness because we often focus on minor details, ignoring larger issues that are politically unpalatable to address head-on.

The poster child for our cleanliness obsession reaching a disorder level is Bart. Despite drug deals and human excrement problems in certain stations, Bart focuses on appeasing germaphobes who demand free hand sanitizer and inorganic germ-resistant vinyl seats.

This isn’t to say San Franciscans are trying to scrub away our hippie image; we’re just washing our organic heirloom tomatoes with soap these days.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go confirm that the overflowing trash can I reported to 311 was emptied.


Original photo by gruntso.

Why you SHOULD put your knives in the dishwasher

January 18th, 2012

If you listen to the so-called knife “experts,” they always give you the same two pieces of advice:

  1. Buy fancy, expensive knives
  2. Never put them in the dishwasher

The first point is of course, insane. That $250 knife at Williams-Sonoma can only do one thing: cut. And guess what? The $15 knife I bought at Safeway has the same feature. Look, if you’re an eye surgeon or something go ahead and spend the extra cash on knives for your operating room. But for your kitchen? Right, like you’ll be able to tell the difference. Give me a break.

The second point is very strange. No dishwasher? I didn’t spend $350 on a dishwasher to hand wash stuff. “But wait!” they say. “The dishwasher will RUIN YOUR KNIVES!!!!!”

To which I answer: so what? A dryer slowly will ruin your clothes but we all still use them. At best, the dishwasher might make your knives dull slightly faster. But that’s why knife sharpeners were invented. And even if my knives do get “ruined” by the dishwasher in the long run, I’m only out $15 per knife. No huge loss.

So there you have it: ignore the “experts” and throw all your knives in the dishwasher. You’ll save time and have the satisfaction of sticking it to the know-it-alls.

What does this mean, Clipper?

June 27th, 2011


Sometimes a phrase makes sense all on its own. Other times, it needs a bit of context. I spotted the cryptic statement “Always have $1.25 on your card” on a Clipper reader at a CalTrain platform.

What does it mean?

Some possibilities:

  • No matter how much you spend, with Clipper, you’ll always have $1.25 on your card.
  • Always have $1.25 on your card or it will explode in your pocket.
  • To prevent your Clipper card from blowing away in a strong gust of wind when you place it on a table, get 5 quarters and always have $1.25 on your card.

Readers: any other ideas as to what Clipper could mean by their cryptic statement?

Open letter: Nat Ford’s severance package

June 22nd, 2011

To the mayor and city supervisors:

Since we’ve decided to honor former SFMTA director Nat Ford’s $384,000 severance package, I would like to propose that we provide these funds in the form of a pre-loaded Clipper card.

Please note that funds on a Clipper card are not refundable, and can only be used for transit.

Thank you,

Eric Gregory