Short blog posts, journal entries, and random thoughts. Topics include a mix of personal and the world at large. 

PG&E is shutting it down

Starting today, PG&E is shutting off power to different areas of California, affecting some 800,000 households. According to the company, this is a necessary preventive measure to avoid a repeat of the devastating wildfires that have afflicted the state these past few years.

Imagine that, an electric company is unable to provide electricity.

Vast swaths of the Bay Area are effected by the scheduled blackout: the Caldecott Tunnel, one of the busiest thoroughfares in the region, will be shutdown due the lack of electricity to run the ventilation system; UC Berkeley and other colleges have cancelled classes for at least a day (must be nice); residents in affected areas are battening down the proverbial hatch: filling up the car and buying emergency supplies. It’s as if we’re preparing for a disaster event, but one that’s self-inflicted.

People are finding it entirely dubious (me included) that PG&E must resort to such tactics, endangering essential services and affecting the everyday lives of people in over half of California. It truly asks the question: why aren’t they instead spending resources towards overhauling the supposed old and frail electric infrastructure? Again, it really rings it home to say it again: an electric company is currently unable/unwilling to deliver power to its customers; I feel like we’re all made to suffer for PG&E’s own incompetence.

At least the company has setup “resource centers” to help people in a pinch when the power goes out, though according to the pictures, the accommodations look like it belongs at the Fyre Festival.

I have to be clear that I am definitely not advocating or showing nonchalance towards future wildfires: I think it’s important to be proactive in preventing the next big one. However, what PG&E is enacting the next few days just doesn’t seem like an appropriate solution, for the short and long term. No doubt bankruptcy proceedings is hampering the company from investing the huge amount of capital required to overhaul the grid, but either them or the state government will have to take on that challenge sooner or later.

Having to resort to rolling blackout, that we don’t even know for sure is preventing anything, is downright embarrassing.

Baby steps, baby steps.

Morning post office run

This morning I walked to my local post office. I could have done the millennial thing and hailed an UBER to go the measly five blocks, but I decided to do like our ancestors did: on foot. Dangerous times, this.

It reminds me of this past week, when I remarked to my friends how when we travel, we have no problems walking long distances to things, but when we’re back on home turf, going a few blocks seems like such a chore. I’ve been tremendously guilty of this, obviously; back in the days when I had a car to drive regularly, I totally would have driven the few blocks today to the post office. Good thing nowadays my only car is parked at work, not so easily reachable.

Every time you think the U.S. Post Office is a failing enterprise, you’d change your mind immediately once you enter one, because it’s almost always full of people. I got lucky today as there was nobody in line when I arrived; soon as I settled in waiting however, four additional people showed up. Naturally, there’s but one clerk working the counter, and only one hour away from their mandatory(?) lunch break whereby the entire office closes.

I reckon the USPS will survive just fine. Perhaps like an Olive Garden making its guest wait - even with empty tables - for the sole reason of increasing appetite, the post office provide somewhat shitty counter service to keep us coming back. A place with long lines can’t be that awful, right?

Taking the half-hour walk was a good opportunity to soak in some sun; I work at the basement level of the campus library, so vitamin D can be difficult to come by. Along the way, as one does in San Francisco, I saw a dude pissing in public towards the garage door of a house. My first thought was how awful it must be for the owner of the house: imagine returning home to the stinking stench of urine as the garage door opens. My second thought was one of empathy for the “offender”; compared to Asia, there’s an utter lack of public toilets in American cities, and it’s a real health and infrastructure problem.

Why aren’t there public facilities on what is the main thoroughfare of our neighborhood? It shouldn’t be up to the stores and merchants to provide restrooms - for paying customers only. Maybe I’d hang out there more if there were public toilets, instead of only venturing there to go to the post office.

Ramen, kimchi, and seaweed: the lunch of champions.

Where's the EV infrastructure?

The past few weeks I’ve been writing about automotive industry quickly evolving to mass electrification. The annual Geneva Motor Show confirmed that is indeed where auto manufacturers are heading, and very rapidly. Fairly soon we’ll be seeing electric vehicles all over dealership lots, hoping to find a good home that will hopefully be fitted with an appropriate charger.

And there lies my only contention with electrification: the charging infrastructure, or lack thereof. Lots of automakers are talking up plans for electric vehicles on a massive scale, but none I can see are discussing the other side of the equation. Gasoline-powered cars have gas stations; where’s the convenient equivalent for electric power?

Some will point out “refueling” stations will be obsolete because owners can charge at home; but what if you don’t have a home? My apartment certainly does not have any sort of provisions for charging, and neither does my workplace. You can give me an electric vehicle for free today and I’d have no practical way of using it. Driving to a charging lot to then wait many hours to “fill up” a car seems like a tremendous waste of time.

Owning a home isn’t in my future, not with the historically astronomical homes prices in the San Francisco Bay Area. Basically, I won’t have the ability to charge an electric car at the place I’m living in, and if manufacturers want to sell me one, they – or someone – need to build out a charging network facsimile to the traditional petrol station. Ideally I should be able to visit a charging station, and fill up the batteries in less than 10 minutes.

Automakers are coming in hot on the supply side, but without a proper infrastructure, will the demand side be there? Up until now, most people who have purchased electric vehicles own a home, therefore capable of installing home chargers; that’s certainly the case with owners I know personally. If electrification of the automobile is indeed the future, then those of us not lucky/rich enough to own a home will need a different solution.

Perhaps this massive infusion of capital by automakers into electrification will be one huge waste of money. I don’t think we can yet know.

Then on some days you just want to pig out.

Then on some days you just want to pig out.

A bridge collapse in Genoa

Photo: Reuters. 

Photo: Reuters. 

What a horrifying image. 

A bridge deck collapsing while I'm driving on it is just about my worst nightmare (thank you, fear of heights). Every time I travel across the Bay Bridge or the Golden Gate Bridge, images of the road-deck utterly falling into the water would always momentarily flash across my mind. This is partly why I never leave the house on weekends.

The above horror is the scene in Genoa, Italy, where a heavy storm caused one of the bridge towers to collapse. It's weird seeing actual buildings underneath the bridge, and in the picture towards the rear those sure look like apartment buildings. I understand land is immensely dearer in Europe than America so it's probably out of necessity, but it's still crazy. 

You cannot pay me enough to live in a house built underneath a bridge. I don't care how unlikely bridge failures are: I'd never get a good night's sleep in those conditions. This particular bridge got knocked over from a mere wind storm! You'd think it'd be engineered to withstand way worse than that: Italy is an earthquake-prone country after all. 

And what of the situation here in America? Many experts agree our infrastructure is crumbling and in dire need of repair, but both parties of congress have continually kicked the can on properly funding such needed endeavor. I hate to say it but it's going to take a catastrophe similar to this one in Genoa (dozens of people dead) in order to get any action from the federal government. 

I just hope I'm not on that bridge.