Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

Saturday Stew (Belated): Transportation, Science, Streets, and XP

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Apr 06, 2014 @ 6:23 am PDT

Observation StewYesterday was a crazy day, and I didn’t get a chance to post my normal Saturday Stew. Luckily, stew can cook a little extra without going bad, so here’s something tasty for your morning. Note that I left a few ingredients at work — I’ll save them for next week, and you likely wont’ miss them here.



A Matter of Time: Mail, Mobile Phones, and Mainframes

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Apr 04, 2014 @ 12:23 pm PDT

userpic=anniversaryToday’s lunchtime news chum collection comes to you courtesy of Timex, for it is all about time and anniversaries. This is appropriate, as NIST is about to introduce a new, more-accurate atomic clock.

  • Mail. This week marks the 10-year anniversary of Gmail. Many of you may remember life before Gmail. I certainly remember the days of command-line email — /bin/mail, mailx, and numerous other mail readers (I was particularly fond of using email within emacs). Then we moved to nicer email clients, such as Pegasus, while the Corporate folks dealt with Outlook and Notes. Web-based email, at that time, was horrid — limited storage, limited interfaces, limited searching. Google changed all that with gigantic limits and great interfaces, all for the cost of your soul (no, that not right) your privacy (getting closer) the ability to search through your mail and sell you stuff based on it (that’s the ticket). Gmail isn’t perfect — there still isn’t the ability to work with digital certificates and encrypted mail. Hopefully we’ll get that. Otherwise, Gmail has become such a juggernaut (especially when combined with Android) that it is unstoppable.
  • Mobile Phones. Speaking of Android, this week is also the 41st anniversary of the first mobile phone call. Talk about life-changing devices. No longer can you hide anywhere — being incommunicado is now unthinkable. We’ve got from only a few having cellphones to everyone having them with them 24×7. In fact, you now no longer have just a phone, but an entire miniature computer with you. As evidence, I just added a page to my Passover Hagadah to remind people to turn off their cell phones; yet another form of escaping from slavery!
  • Mainframes. This week also is the 50th anniversary of the IBM 360 mainframe. Now, many of you youngsters (hey, you, get off my lawn) don’t even know what a mainframe is, so bear with me. Back in the 1950s, computers were one-shots — built for a specific purpose, for a specific task. Some smaller computers (such as the IBM 7090) started to come in, but they still often used plugboards and were unsuitable for the enterprise. In the 1960s, IBM introduced the 360 line — a range of computers, all running a common OS (at that time, OS/MFT) with common machine instructions that were extensible. Business could now afford computers. I programmed on a number of 360 systems: the 360/50 at LA Unified, the 360/91 and 360/75 at UCLA, and later, the 370/3033 at UCLA.


It’s the Littlest Things…

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu Apr 03, 2014 @ 12:22 pm PDT

userpic=observationsToday’s collection of lunchtime news chum stories all have to do with the littlest things having big effects:

  • High-O Silver! Recently, my wife picked up a new antibiotic gel at the pharmacy — an over-the-counter colloidal silver creme. I thought nothing of it (other than to try it and see it worked well) — after all, there are people who use colloidal silver to fight infections, although it has the side effect of turning your skin blue. Additionally, according to numerous studies, consumers may benefit from the silver specks’ ability to inhibit the growth of bacteria, fungus and other microorganisms, including disease-causing Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus. So, I was intrigued by this Discover article about the new silver antibiotic gel — it seems that it contains silver nanoparticals that may harm humans and wildlife. The problem is that silver nanoparticles’ tiny size allows them to enter parts of living things bodies that other molecules can’t reach. This can damage the inner workings of cells and inhibit protein production.  And of course, being stupid humans, we’re just tossing this stuff into the environment, along with plastic nanoparticles, gold nanoparticles, and copper nanoparticles.
  • Battling the Bulge. Everyone has heard, by now, of the various bariatric surgical approaches for weight loss. Two of the best approaches are the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass operation and the vertical sleeve gastrectomy. One might think that these approaches work by reducing the size of the stomach, and thus reducing the amount of food one can eat and/or absorb. But if you think that, you would be wrong. There’s some new research on how obesity surgery really works, and it is astounding. It appears that these surgeries actually work by setting in motion a cascade of signaling changes in the gut and elsewhere. Those changes, in turn, reshape the mix of gut bacteria in ways that appear to turn up metabolic function, lipid metabolism and signals that tell the brain it’s time to stop eating. Researchers have already observed that certain bile acids circulate more copiously in the guts and blood of patients in the wake of bariatric surgery, but could only guess at why. They also have observed that the community of bacteria colonizing the guts of obese patients changes in the wake of bariatric surgery. Researchers just found that that one link between these two changes is a genetic “switch,” or transcription factor, called FXR. Increased bile acid unlocks FXR, which improves metabolic function directly. But improved FXR signaling also promotes the growth of gut bacteria that help regulate fat metabolism, and suppresses gut bacteria that is linked to weight gain and metabolic disturbance. The next step is to figure out how to create the FXR signalling through medicine, not surgery.
  • Concrete Isn’t Forever. Most of us see something made of concrete, and we think “permanence” (well, I also wonder about the water trapped in the structure). But all of our concrete isn’t permanent, and that’s creating a problem. Here’s the scary headline related to this that caught my eye: Concrete-Dissolving Bacteria Are Destroying Our Sewers. The problem is that, within the sewer system, one set of microbes emits hydrogen sulfide, the gas that is also responsible for raw sewage’s unpleasant smell. This gas fills the empty space between the top of the pipe and the water flow. Another set of microbes living in this headspace turns hydrogen sulfide to sulfuric acid, which eats away at concrete, leaving behind gypsum, the powdery stuff you find in drywall. This turns the sewer pipes into wet drywall. Yuk. That’s worse than Orangeberg piping. The current solution is to put plastic liners into the concrete pipes, a process that is almost as expensive as digging them up entirely. A better approach might be to embed anti-bacteria in the concrete (but that can build resistance). Microbiologists are instead thinking about how to tinker with the water systems and DNA sequencing to create probacteria — bacteria in the water pipes that are harmless to humans (so they say) but can manage the sewer bacteria.
  • [ETA] Bugs from Birth. Here’s a P.S. item from Andrew Ducker on how the birth process was designed to colonize us with beneficial microbes that help keep the bad ones out. The implication of this is that, as more and more women opt go to the Caesarian route for convenience, we are entering life less prepared with the good stuff we need to get us started. As the article notes, “the founding populations of microbes found on C-section infants are not those selected by hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution or even longer.” In other words — we are too safe for our own good.

Scientists like to say that this is a bacteria’s world, and we just live with it. After all, humans carry more bacteria cells than human ones, and without bacteria, we couldn’t live in the world. In fact, small microbes now are believed to be responsible for one of the greatest mass extinctions on earth! We need to think more about our indiscriminate use of antibiotics,  and the impacts of our growing use of nanotechnology that we don’t fully understand.

Third Floor. Ladies Lingerie.

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Apr 02, 2014 @ 11:20 am PDT

userpic=young-meLA Observed is reporting that demolition was scheduled to begin yesterday on the shuttered Robinsons-May store in Beverly Hills. A later update indicated it now looks like it is delayed until summer. Whenever it goes, I’ll be sad to see it go.

The Beverly Hills Robinsons (the -May came later) was built in the day of the stand-alone department store. It was an elegant place, across from the Beverly Hilton. The modernist William Pereira and Charles Luckman design echoed the era: it was designed for the car, not the pedestrian; there was elegant afternoon dining for the ladies at the top, and floors of elegant fashion. It opened in 1952 and closed in 2004.

My memories, however, are from the late 1960s, when my grandmother worked there in the Ladies Lingerie department. I always had the belief that she got the job there through family connections with Stix, Baer, and Fuller in St. Louis, where her brother-in-law was once a buyer. I have vague memories of visiting her at the store as a yungun, and occasionally waiting for her. The store reflected her style — I always saw my grandmother as elegant and beautiful.

Nowadays, everytime I drive across Wilshire and go past the shuttered store, I think of her and smile in remembrance. The power of place.

Change of Venue

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Apr 01, 2014 @ 8:10 am PDT

userpic=don-martinI’d like to announce that ACSAC site selection has completed for 2015, and we’ve opted for the Mission Inn in Riverside. The conference itself will be held on the grounds of the Orange Empire Railway Museum in Perris California, about 30 miles south of Riverside.



You got me. That’s not really happening. But I had to come up with something for April Fools. In more serious news, there is a change of venue to announce. I’ve been looking at Cybersecurity opportunities, and decided that LA is not the place to be. It’s time to start exploring moving back east.

California Highway Headlines for March 2014

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Mar 31, 2014 @ 9:21 pm PDT

userpic=roadgeekingThis has been a very busy busy month, but I’ve had a few minutes to note some headlines about the highways…

  • Motorists on the 118 Freeway notice this smile marker. Steve Apostolof had a frown on his face as he drove past Happy Face Hill. The hillside features a 150-foot-wide smiley face that was created in 1998 by a man armed with a weed-whacker and a sprayer of herbicide. Since then, it has become something of a curiosity piece that welcomes motorists on the 118 Freeway to Simi Valley. But in the January dusk, Apostolof couldn’t see Happy Face Hill, let alone its enormous grin.
  • Highway 101 widening project jumps financial hurdle. The Sonoma County Transportation Authority on Monday approved $4.5 million to buy land to widen Highway 101 to six lanes through Petaluma, but it will be at least three years, and perhaps longer, before there is a remedy to the bottleneck that has plagued commuters for years.
  • Devils Slide Trail almost ready for unveiling. The views on Highway 1 at Devils Slide were spectacular, but to admire them while driving was to blow a kiss at death. From the time the twisting coastal artery opened in 1937 until its closure last year, cars plunged with disturbing frequency into the surf several hundred feet below. So the opportunity to savor the vista is a welcome change, said Jon Zilber, one of two dozen volunteers who have gotten a sneak peek at the abandoned roadway’s reincarnation: the Devils Slide Trail.
  • How to Pull California Traffic Count Data for State Highways. I was working on a custom data request for a new business owner who was considering a particular location for a new venture. This owner wanted California traffic count data for the highway near the potential location. Here’s how I got traffic count data for this California state highway.
  • CityDig: Before the 405 Was Paved. Today a river of concrete passes through Sepulveda Canyon, one of the three main portals between the San Fernando Valley and the Los Angeles Basin. But in 1934 that mighty river—the 405 freeway—was only a modest stream, a winding, unpaved road that snaked through the Santa Monica Mountains.
  • First toll lanes in Contra Costa to be installed along I-680 in San Ramon Valley. The long slog for commuters traveling from Walnut Creek to San Ramon could get shorter — for a price. The first toll lanes in Contra Costa County are expected to open there on Interstate 680 by mid-2016, said John Goodwin, a Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman. The $45 million project, which is in the design stage, will create 23 miles of FasTrak express lanes that will allow solo drivers to pay to use carpool lanes — as long as its traffic is moving at least 45 mph. Construction is expected to begin at the start of 2015.
  • They Moved Mountains (And People) To Build L.A.’s Freeways. …it’s possible that all the dire warnings and clever pranks obscured a more troubling possibility: that Carmageddon had already come to pass decades ago, in the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, when Los Angeles scarred its landscapes, split its communities, and displaced a quarter-million people to build its 527-mile freeway system.
  • Construction Underway on I-5 in South Orange County. Drivers have started to see construction activity ramping up on the San Diego Freeway (I-5) in South Orange County as crews began work on a $249-million traffic-relief project last week. The I-5 South County Improvement Project will add a carpool lane in both directions between San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente as well as rebuild the Avenida Pico interchange in San Clemente.
  • Northwest 138 Corridor. The Northwest 138 Corridor project will expand on the previous North County combined Highway Corridor Study which was completed in 2004 to develop a multi-modal transportation plan for the northern portion of Los Angeles County to address both short and long-term needs for a variety of trip purposes and goods movement. To accommodate the potential for both population and economic growth in the future, recommendations were made to improve this portion of SR-138.
  • Devil’s Slide, once hellish, opens Thursday as heavenly trail. Until its retirement about a year ago, the treacherous stretch of Highway 1 known as Devil’s Slide was a white-knuckle ride, a dizzying drive where motorists nervously kept their eyes on the road, resisting the temptation to glance at the Pacific Ocean hundreds of feet below. But since the twin-bore Devil’s Slide Tunnel opened last March, the old bluff-top highway has been transformed into a place to relax, slow down and enjoy the spectacular view. On Thursday, the Devil’s Slide Trail, a 1.3-mile path for hikers, cyclists and horseback riders, opens to the public.
  • Autry’s ‘Route 66′ exhibition looks for its funding kicks online. The Autry National Center of the American West is hoping lots of people will get their kicks by giving money online to help fund its coming exhibition “Route 66: The Road and the Romance.” The Autry, which will open the show June 8, joins the likes of the Louvre and the Smithsonian Institution’s Asian art museums in using a “crowdfunding” site to lasso donations. The Autry can appeal to people who otherwise might not know of the L.A. museum’s existence but are fans of Route 66 and its manifestations in pop culture.
  • Caltrans to pay $12.7 million extra to put Bay Bridge demolition back on schedule. Caltrans says it will put the $300 million demolition of the old Bay Bridge east span back on schedule by paying $12.7 million for extra labor and equipment. The three- to five-year-long demolition project fell several months behind schedule out the starting gate when Caltrans reallocated labor and resources to open the $6.4 billion new east span as soon as possible. It opened Sept. 2 after years of delays and cost overruns.
  • Roundabout is latest in downtown Roseville makeover. Within a matter of weeks, work should get started on the city of Roseville’s next phase of overall downtown improvement, though this one may take drivers some getting used to. By the end of the year, a two-lane roundabout is planned to be in place where Washington Boulevard meets Oak Street, a $3.02 million construction project. (h/t Joel W.)
  • Caltrans Seeking Solution for Water-Logged Castillo Street Underpass. An estimated 20,000 vehicles a day pass through the Castillo Street interchange under and near Highway 101, an area that is consistently plagued by standing water and pavement problems. Now, the agency that owns the interchange is working on a solution, albeit a temporary one, that it hopes will help solve the road’s issues. The underpass was built in 1960, but damage from an earthquake in the area in 1971 created large cracks in the slabs of concrete that make up the roadway, said David Beard, project manager for Caltrans, which owns that section of road.
  • Risky Berkeley intersection to be fixed in roundabout way. The intersection at the west end of Gilman Street in Berkeley is daunting to even the most confident of drivers. Eight lanes of traffic lead onto and off of busy Interstate 80; four different frontage roads converge on the interchange; Gilman Street runs right through the middle of it all; and the Bay Trail, which runs just west of the intersection, leaves bicyclists and pedestrians to navigate the dangerous roadway, which is often populated with frustrated drivers and is only governed by a handful of stop signs.

Your Are What’s On Your Phone

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Mar 30, 2014 @ 9:15 pm PDT

userpic=verizonYesterday, I asked people to suggest some of their favorite apps on their phones. Although few fave answered directly on the blog, I have gotten responses on  Livejournal, Google+, and on Facebook. The responses have been telling, less in providing useful app suggestions, and more in showing how one’s phone reflects one personality and lifestyle.

There are people who use their phones as a media center. These folks suggested apps such as Kindle, Netflix, Pandora, and such.  This is much less important to me — my media center is my iPod Classic, which holds all my music. I’d rather not use precious bandwidth for streaming media.

Others use the phone as a tool. These folks were suggesting apps such as rulers, levels, calculators. They were also suggesting apps such as terminal emulators to give ssh access, or (apropos for where I work) satellite monitors.

Still others use the phone as a tool in a different sense — learning about the environment. These folks included traffic apps, apps to provide social connections, and even earthquake monitoring.

One might even wonder whether the collection of apps on one phones is a signature for an individual…


Saturday Stew: Mixing it Up

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Mar 29, 2014 @ 7:01 pm PDT

Observation StewWell, it’s Saturday, and you know what that means — a tasty news chum stew of the leftovers that couldn’t make a coherent dish during the week:

OK, so it’s a skimpy stew.