Thursday, April 27, 2017

An Alameda high rise?

Alameda Magazine, which frankly is simply a Chamber of Commerce flyer, nonetheless ran this breathless article: Alameda’s First High-Rise?

A developer is proposing to build a 14-story, 589-unit housing project on the waterfront at the long-dormant Encinal Terminals site. The project, which would be constructed directly across the estuary from Oakland’s 3,100-unit Brooklyn Basin housing development now under construction, would feature the Island’s tallest building.

“We are building a world-class waterfront” that will be “a centerpiece for the estuary,” said Mike O’Hara, a representative of developer Tim Lewis Communities, or TLC. TLC recently broke ground on another 380-unit housing project on the adjoining historic Del Monte warehouse property.

I certainly would like to see the estuary waterfront opened up and reclaimed. Currently it is a wasteland of abandoned warehouses, docks, and vacant lots, mostly fenced off and sitting idle. It could be some of the most beautiful space in the Bay Area, if it is done well.

As the article notes, however, this is far from a slam dunk:

the Encinal Terminals project faces a more complicated regulatory approval than most developments. The 32-acre site includes nine submerged acres, large dilapidated wharf structures, and six acres of state tidelands. Under state law, tidelands property cannot be used for housing, so the project would require the swapping of private acreage around the perimeter of the site for tidelands property in the interior—a plan that also would have to be approved by the state.

It just so happened that I had the chance today to wander down to a similarly-long-under-used section of the San Francisco waterfront, known as "Dogpatch", where an enormous gentrification project is underway, scheduled to run for at least another 15 years.

The cities are changing. The Bay Area is changing. It's good to remember the history, but it's also good to invest in the future.

On we go.

Bad Behavior: a very short review

I was rambling around on the Internet, leafing through some random person's "book recommendations" page, when I came across a recommendation for Mary Gaitskill's Bad Behavior: Stories, and decided to take a chance on it.

What an astonishing collection of stories this is!

Of course, at this point, 30 years have passed, and so this is old news to everyone, but still. I'm not sure I've ever read somebody whose writing seemed so vivid, so real, so true.

This. Is. How. People. Really. Think. And. Act. And. Talk.

However, what goes hand-in-hand with this is that her stories are not for the faint of heart. They are raw, fearless, clear-eyed views into the very abyss of our human souls; Gaitskill neither flinches nor turns away from the truth, no matter how horrid the vision she sees.

I'm tremendously glad I read these stories, but on the other hand they're not the sort of thing I'd feel comfortable recommending to anyone.

If they're the sort of thing you'd enjoy, you've probably already found them, somehow.

Of course, I hadn't, and so I'm glad I did.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

GBooks, 15 years on

Three perspectives:

  • How Google Book Search Got Lost
    Two things happened to Google Books on the way from moonshot vision to mundane reality. Soon after launch, it quickly fell from the idealistic ether into a legal bog, as authors fought Google’s right to index copyrighted works and publishers maneuvered to protect their industry from being Napsterized. A decade-long legal battle followed — one that finally ended last year, when the US Supreme Court turned down an appeal by the Authors Guild and definitively lifted the legal cloud that had so long hovered over Google’s book-related ambitions.

    But in that time, another change had come over Google Books, one that’s not all that unusual for institutions and people who get caught up in decade-long legal battles: It lost its drive and ambition.

    ...

    But Google took away a lesson that helped it immeasurably as it grew and gained power: Engineering is great, but it’s not the answer to all problems. Sometimes you have to play politics, too — consult stakeholders, line up allies, compromise with rivals. As a result, Google assembled a crew of lobbyists and lawyers and approached other similar challenges — like navigating YouTube’s rights maze — with greater care and better results.

  • Torching the Modern-Day Library of Alexandria
    What happened was complicated but how it started was simple: Google did that thing where you ask for forgiveness rather than permission, and forgiveness was not forthcoming. Upon hearing that Google was taking millions of books out of libraries, scanning them, and returning them as if nothing had happened, authors and publishers filed suit against the company, alleging, as the authors put it simply in their initial complaint, “massive copyright infringement.”

    ...

    Amazon, for its part, worried that the settlement allowed Google to set up a bookstore that no one else could. Anyone else who wanted to sell out-of-print books, they argued, would have to clear rights on a book-by-book basis, which was as good as impossible, whereas the class action agreement gave Google a license to all of the books at once.

    This objection got the attention of the Justice Department, in particular the Antitrust division, who began investigating the settlement. In a statement filed with the court, the DOJ argued that the settlement would give Google a de facto monopoly on out-of-print books. That’s because for Google’s competitors to get the same rights to those books, they’d basically have to go through the exact same bizarre process: scan them en masse, get sued in a class action, and try to settle.

    ...

    It was strange to me, the idea that somewhere at Google there is a database containing 25-million books and nobody is allowed to read them. It’s like that scene at the end of the first Indiana Jones movie where they put the Ark of the Covenant back on a shelf somewhere, lost in the chaos of a vast warehouse. It’s there. The books are there. People have been trying to build a library like this for ages—to do so, they’ve said, would be to erect one of the great humanitarian artifacts of all time—and here we’ve done the work to make it real and we were about to give it to the world and now, instead, it’s 50 or 60 petabytes on disk, and the only people who can see it are half a dozen engineers on the project who happen to have access because they’re the ones responsible for locking it up.

  • Why Google Books Deserves Better Than These Obituaries
    Unfortunately, the copyright case over Google Books morphed into something larger. It became a vehicle for anxieties over how the digital era has undermined authors on a financial and cultural level. Those concerns are legitimate, but scapegoating Google Books for these fears was misguided.

    Meanwhile, groups like the Authors Guild continue to celebrate the collapse of the settlement even though no other options have emerged to replicate its potential benefits. Those benefits would have included a new market for digital copies of old books, and a solution to the problem of "orphan works"—books whose authors cannot be located that are out-of-print but still under copyright protection. Instead, there is stasis.

    ...

    But if Google is to dispel the recent mutterings about the project's decline, it must do more to raise the profile of Google Books, and offer some assurances about how it will ensure the collection—which, recall, is nothing less than the history of human knowledge—will survive. Ideally, the company should create a trust or foundation to manage it so as to ensure it endures no matter what corporate changes come at Google.

    Meanwhile, it's time for Google Books opponents to acknowledge the astonishing thing Google has built. Critics like the former head of Harvard libraries, Robert Darnton, have long suggested some university or public consortium can replicate the project. But today it's clearer than ever this is just a pipeline, and no one will muster the money, energy, and technology to do what Google did also over again.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Borussia

Well!

So it turns out that the horrible bombing attack on the Borussia Dortmund football team was in fact NOT Islamic terrorists at all.

Rather, it was something much more banal: One man’s greed behind Dortmund attack, after all

Not many -if any- had seen this coming… Something more than a week after the triple bomb attack that targeted Borussia Dortmund and led to their Champions League game against Monaco being delayed by 24 hours, police have announced that the motive behind the whole incident was pure financial greed.
The accused bought 15,000 put-options regarding the shares of Borussia Dortmund on April 11. Those options were running until June 17, 2017 and were bought with the ID of the hotel L’Arrivee (Dortmund’s team hotel)
a prosecutor made known, through a written statement, after the police arrested a 28-year-old man

The Beeb has (a bit) more: Borussia Dortmund bombs: 'Speculator' charged with bus attack

Rather than having links to radical Islamism, he was a market trader hoping to make money if the price of shares in the team fell, prosecutors say.

The suspect has been charged with attempted murder, triggering explosions and causing serious physical injury.

He has been identified only as Sergej W, and was staying in the team's hotel overlooking the scene of the attack.

There was, I should think, more than just greed involved, as clearly the man was quite mentally ill:

He was staying at the team's L'Arrivée hotel in Dortmund on the day of the attack and had moved to a room on the top floor, overlooking the street where it took place, prosecutors say.

The suspect placed the bet on 11 April using an IP address traced to the hotel, after taking out a loan for the money.

That's somewhere bordering on stalker-level obsession, I'd say.

Very sad.

But I'm glad the German police were level-headed and careful and thorough and dug down to the underlying facts of the matter.

And SHAME on all those trashy publications that threw horrid terror speculations out there.

Yes, I'm looking at you, The Sun, and The Express, and The NY Post, and Fox News and The Star, and ...

You know who you were. Shame on you all.

Three Junes: a very short review.

Julia Glass's Three Junes tells the story of an (extended) Scottish family across multiple generations, mostly set during the later decades of the 20 century.

It is beautifully written and quite emotional at times.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A break in the rain

It was a beautiful day in the city, so I wandered over to the border between Chinatown and North Beach and hooked up with some old friends for a wonderful lunch.

Thanks, all!

Cop stories

I'll read almost everything; I'm pretty voracious that way.

But certainly a good police procedural is always right up my alley.

So, two recommendations, one old, and one new:

  • The Fairy Gunmother

    Pennac's novel is set in a post-imperial Paris of the mid-1980's, rich with the complexities that entails, and benefits from a truly superb translation by Ian Monk. The result is laugh-out-loud funny while still being atmospheric and compelling.

  • Leviathan Wakes

    Although you'll find this on your Science Fiction shelves at the local bookstore (hah! is there such a thing?), it's really a police procedural set in the future, in space, as more-than-haggard Detective Miller is trying to unravel why a simple missing persons case appears to be much, much deeper than it first seemed.

Each of these is "Book 1 of a series".

And I'll be reading more of each series, straightaway.