Wednesday, September 3, 2014


Apologies for lack of updates, but it's been hard to slip back into my old life after living so differently for a while. I've been feeling a message in my life that I need a change. I went to California fully intending to get the the message that I was better off where I am. That's not the message I got. Given the realities of the things I write about here, moving to Los Angeles seems like the most insane thing I could possibly even contemplate doing. I'm well aware the irony of that situation. I've written about what I experienced out there, and am debating whether or not to post it publicly.

Anyway, I'm trying to ease back in and reassess my priorities. I have some longer pieces I started before I left that I'm hoping to finish. Then I've got a lot of thinking to do.

By bizarre coincidence I was actually on the 101 driving to San Francisco on Thursday the 28th:
The Metcalf substation—south of San Jose, Calif., off U.S. Highway 101—was targeted early Wednesday morning by intruders who cut fencing at the site and stole construction equipment being used for security upgrades. 
Alarms sounded in the utility's central security-dispatch center shortly after 2 a.m., although the break-in wasn't discovered until a morning shift arrived four or five hours later, PG&E said. The company reported the incident to police around 7:30 a.m. and disclosed the incident to the public eight hours later. The utility said it is seeking the public's help in identifying the thieves.
The Metcalf substation is a critical piece of Silicon Valley's grid, flowing power to America's technology hub. 
Gunmen attacked the substation in April of last year, shooting out 17 large transformers. There was no blackout because of adjustments by the grid operator. The facility was out of service for nearly a month. 
Power-transmission security is a major concern of government officials since substations are linchpins in the U.S. electric grid. The Wall Street Journal in March reported details of a federal study that found that disabling as few as nine critical power substations could cause cascading blackouts across the country. 
Repairing multiple electrical substations would be slow and difficult. Transformers, which control voltages on power lines, are custom built for their locations and it often takes a year or more to build a new unit. Getting a new transformer in place also is a logistical challenge; transformers can weigh 500,000 pounds and few railcars exist that can move them.
PG&E Silicon Valley Substation Is Breached Again (Wall Street Journal)

And that's not all on the infrastructure front. I was on Sunset a lot heading to the PCH from downtown, but I don't recall seeing this:
LOS ANGELES — The scene was apocalyptic: a torrent of water from a ruptured pipe valve bursting through Sunset Boulevard, hurling chunks of asphalt 40 feet into the air as it closed down the celebrated thoroughfare and inundated the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles. By the time emergency crews patched the pipe, 20 million gallons of water had cascaded across the college grounds. 
The failure of this 90-year-old water main, which happened in July in the midst of a historic drought, no less, was hardly an isolated episode for Los Angeles. Instead, it was the latest sign of what officials here described as a continuing breakdown of the public works skeleton of the second-largest city in the nation: its roads, sidewalks and water system. 
With each day, it seems, another accident illustrates the cost of deferred maintenance on public works, while offering a frustrating reminder to this cash-strained municipality of the daunting task it faces in dealing with the estimated $8.1 billion it would take to do the necessary repairs. The city’s total annual budget is about $8.1 billion. 
Los Angeles’s problems reflect the challenges many American cities face after years of recession-era belt-tightening prompted them to delay basic maintenance. But the sheer size of Los Angeles, its reliance on the automobile and, perhaps most important, the stringent voter-imposed restrictions on the government’s ability to raise taxes have turned the region into a symbol of the nation’s infrastructure woes... 
The problem is exacerbated by cutbacks in federal spending on public works. “The sense is that more and more, we are going to be doing things alone,” said the mayor, Eric Garcetti. Close to 40 percent of the region’s 6,500 miles of roads and highways are graded D or F, meaning they are in such bad shape that for now city officials are concentrating maintenance efforts on roads that are in better shape, and thus less costly to fix. More than 4,000 of the 10,750 miles of sidewalks are in severe disrepair, according to Los Angeles city officials. 
More than 10 percent of the 7,200 miles of water pipes were built 90 years ago. The average age of a city pipe is 58, compared with an optimal life span of 100 years. While that may not sound so bad, at the current level of funding it would take the Department of Water and Power 315 years to replace them.
And I can now report first-hand that the utter reliance on the car is the city's biggest downside for visitors and inhabitants:
The challenge also coincides with a push by city leaders to move Los Angeles away from its historic reliance on cars, with heavy investment in its expanding mass-transit system and bicycle lanes. In an interview, Mayor Garcetti said that any public works campaign would have to factor in that change. 
“We have to build a city that people can be happy to walk in and drive in, but we also have to account for the transit revolution that’s coming,” he said. “If we spend billions and billions on car-only infrastructure — ignoring pedestrian, bicycle and transit users — we may look back 10 years from now and say, ‘Whoops, maybe we should have tied all those things together.’ ”
Infrastructure Cracks as Los Angeles Defers Repairs (New York Times)


  1. First: If you're going to live anywhere north of Santa Barbara, never say "the" 101, or "the" PCH. You just say the number, like ordering off a Chinese menu. It's weird, but that's how it is.

    Also, vacationing for a week or a month in a place is not like living there. California might be blast for a week or a month, but living here may or may not work out for you.

    I'm a native of Southern California although I grew up in Hawaii (where being white is about as fashionable as being black in 1950s Alabama) and although it's an expensive place to live, I've been able to survive cheaply here better than anywhere else.

    Gold mining is hard work. It could work out, but in this Depression, there are plenty of other old gold sniffers out there who've been at it for decades.

    As for the attacks on the Metcalf electrical station, the first is right out of the standard survivalist-nutbag handbook. Shoot out the transformers. The second attack was probably just for crack money. That area and parts south are full of survivalists, Rapture-believers, and every other kind of marginal nut you can imagine, and haven't imagined yet. I know, I lived down there for a few years.

  2. LA would be one of the worst places I can imagine living - and I did live in SM for a little over a year. The weather is very hot if you're more than a mile or two from the coast, the whole state is constantly in drought, it's one the ugliest cities I've ever seen, mostly non-walkable, horrendous traffic at all hours, it's ground zero for the mass migration of poor Latin Americans to El Norte, it's polluted, the culture is utterly vapid and seems to promote retardation, and most of the people seem to be on brain pills of one sort or another.

    I would choose anywhere else, although I can also say from experience that the norcal tech bros startup culture also gets pretty sickening after a couple of years.

    1. I live in tech bro central and that whole thing is maybe 5% of the population, maybe. Almost all of Silicon Valley is working class, and your average janitor is making more than the average techie anyway. A few, a very very few, people in tech are making as much as a Union carpenter, and a tinier portion still are making the wages that are ballyhoo'd in the newspapers.

      Living in norcal, I'm more likely to meet someone on a given day who's into restoring classic cars (because who can afford a new one?) or is into backyard chickens.


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