Frontierism 2.0

Google Buses have been around for a while, but with the mobile boom raising rents and giving way to weird new semi-spiced fusion restaurants, they are suddenly BIG NEWS.  So big that the controversy surrounding them has leaped form humble stencils outside of coffeeshops to the likes of NY Mag.  And now the London Review of Books is getting in the mix with an essay by 30+ year San Franciscan Rebecca Solnit.

It's long and comprehensive, tackling more than I could possible summarize in an early morning blog post.  But it goes beyond the usual whine of rental costs and Those Damn Kids With Their Cellamaphones and tries to give the boom some historical context.  So rather than pick out some highlights, I'll just leave you with the first few paragraphs and encourage you to read on:

The buses roll up to San Francisco’s bus stops in the morning and evening, but they are unmarked, or nearly so, and not for the public. They have no signs or have discreet acronyms on the front windshield, and because they also have no rear doors they ingest and disgorge their passengers slowly, while the brightly lit funky orange public buses wait behind them. The luxury coach passengers ride for free and many take out their laptops and begin their work day on board; there is of course wifi. Most of them are gleaming white, with dark-tinted windows, like limousines, and some days I think of them as the spaceships on which our alien overlords have landed to rule over us.

Other days I think of them as the company buses by which the coal miners get deposited at the minehead, and the work schedule involved would make a pit owner feel at home. Silicon Valley has long been famous for its endless work hours, for sucking in the young for decades of sixty or seventy-hour weeks, and the much celebrated perks on many jobsites – nap rooms, chefs, gyms, laundry – are meant to make spending most of your life at work less hideous. The biotech industry is following the same game plan. There are hundreds of luxury buses serving mega-corporations down the peninsula, but we refer to them in the singular, as the Google Bus, and we – by which I mean people I know, people who’ve lived here a while, and mostly people who don’t work in the industry – talk about them a lot. Parisians probably talked about the Prussian army a lot too, in the day.

My brother says that the first time he saw one unload its riders he thought they were German tourists – neatly dressed, uncool, a little out of place, blinking in the light as they emerged from their pod. The tech workers, many of them new to the region, are mostly white or Asian male nerds in their twenties and thirties; you often hear that to be over fifty in that world is to be a fossil, and the two founders of Google (currently tied for 13th richest person on earth) are not yet forty.

Another friend of mine told me a story about the Apple bus from when he worked for Apple Inc. Once a driver went rogue, dropping off the majority of his passengers as intended at the main Apple campus, and then rolling on towards San Jose instead of stopping at the satellite location, but the passengers were tech people, so withdrawn from direct, abrupt, interventionary communications that they just sat there as he drove many miles past their worksite and eventually dumped them on the street in a slum south of the new power centre of the world. At that point, I think, they called headquarters: another, more obedient bus driver was dispatched. I told the story to another friend and we joked about whether they then texted headquarters to get the email addresses of the people sitting next to them: this is a culture that has created many new ways for us to contact one another and atrophied most of the old ones, notably speaking to the people around you. All these youngish people are on the Google Bus because they want to live in San Francisco, city of promenading and mingling, but they seem as likely to rub these things out as to participate in them.

Read on.

Burrito Drone Strikes, Because Why Not?

Now that drones are capable of assassinating US citizens overseas, shouldn't they be able to air-drop me a burrito at 2am?  Of course they should.  And thanks to science and some other app-powered witchcraft, our toy soldiers returning home from Afghanistan will be able to find civilian employment.  Behold:

Unlike the fictitious Tacocopter, this actually seems real (or, at least, they have some source code and details on how to build on yourself).  But don't count on Farolito flying you natural laxatives anytime soon:

Unfortunately, Burrito Bomber as a commercial product is not yet allowed under current FAA guidelines. However, the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 requires the FAA to hammer out regulations for commercial use drones by September 2015. This means in 2015 we'll be able to take to the skies to bring you your burrito faster than you can say “¡Salsa roja por favor!”.

[Darwin Aerospace | via Eater]

SFPD, Google Hosting Class on How to Improperly Lock Up Your Bike

Let us be totally clear here: this post isn't intended to rag on either organization for bicycle locking ignorance.  One organization is a government service tasked with crime prevention and security, the other parses vast amounts of information to provide us with the best resources available on any given subject, so it makes total sense that they'd be blanketing San Francisco with posters incorrectly telling people how to properly lock their bicycles.  I mean, neither is a bike company, so how would they know?

Therefore, in the interest in preventing anyone who may have seen this from being duped into this subpar locking strategy, we'd like to remind everyone how to actually lock their bike (via Sheldon Brown):

People tend to buy the big clunky U-locks because they don't know how to use them properly. A U-lock should go around the rear rim and tire, somewhere inside the rear triangle of the frame. There is no need to loop it around the seat tube as well, because the wheel cannot be pulled through the rear triangle.

Some will object that felons might cut the rear rim and tire to remove the lock. Believe me, this just doesn't happen in the real world. It is indeed possible to cut the rim with a hacksaw, working from the outside to the inside, but first, the tire must be removed or cut through. It would be a lot of work to steal a frame without a usable rear wheel, the most expensive part of a bike, after the frame.

The main reason SFPD/Google's suggested strategy doesn't work is the same reason cable locks just plain don't secure bikes: every thief has a pair of cutters that make quick work of the cable. If you use their locking suggestion, not only are you carrying around a relatively useless, bulky cable, you're likely to find both your wheels stolen, as opposed to just your front wheel.

Google it if you don't believe me.

Update: Matt Friedman of SFPD tells us the SF Bike Coalition is behind the poster and locking recommendation. Yikes.

Dolores Park's Weed Truffle Dude Gets Big Spotlight in iOS 6's Maps

We here at Uptown Almanac haven't upgraded to iOS 6 yet because we were told the new maps are garbage, but looks like tech blog tantrums were full of their usual frantic shit because iOS Maps has all the hot tips on where we can get effin' ripped—in 3D.

That's right, “Mission Delores Park's” [sic] infamous Truffle Guy, responsible for making many Marina girls freak out and cry, now has prominent placement in Apple's otherwise inadequate maps app—a necessary feature that the Google Dream Team failed to deliver. UA tipsters Lindsay fills us in on her discovery:

RIDIC. I'm sure it's because, of course, he's on Yelp and that is where the data come from. But still.

Yes. But still.

Happy Thanksgiving, dope fiends!

Liveblogging the Series Premiere of Start-Ups: Silicon Valley

In a classic display of Silicon Valley arrogance, Bravo is airing the season premiere the Start-Ups: Silicon Valley on the eve of The Most Important Election of Our Generation, depriving us of another hour of CNN's illuminating election coverage.  But it's okay, the opportunity to see speeded up establishing shots of San Francisco on basic cable is far more exciting than witnessing the last hours of Mitt Romney's relevance.

Because Silicon Valley's economy is built on the liveblog, we couldn't help but treat the show with the same journalistic respect and integrity that tech blogs show start-ups with their instant, snap analysis.

Let's watch!

9:43pm: Why aren't any of these diamond-encrusted women talking about start-ups?

9:45pm: Oh shit, this is Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

9:47pm: Okay, These People are just faking real life instead of business.

9:54pm: How many Microsoft Surface ads do people think we'll see during the show? 8? We'll be counting.

9:58pm: Cursing!

10:02pm: Due to a pooping emergency, our liveblog will be running at a 152 second DVR delay.

10:05pm: I'm bored.

10:07pm: Does she call her start-up “Newspepper” because she can't pronounce “newspaper”?

10:10pm: A girl named Sarah just called room service to order food for her purse puppy, then stripped down to her underwear to explain her start-up.

10:10pm: There's now a bellboy pouring her dog Fiji water.  We can only imagine the bellboy was forced to drink out of the toilet.

10:11pm: Actual quote: “Living in the Four Seasons is like living in a bubble, And. I. Love. This. Bubble!”

10:15pm: Meet Kim Taylor.  She used to be an NBA dancer and now “pushes competitors toward failure.” This isn't funny.

10:18pm: Actual quote: “Silicon Valley is where nerds make fucking dreams come true.”

10:21pm: We're currently watching as one of Silicon Valley's young prodigies gets her hair did.

10:24pm: Suggesting that attention-seeking start-up nerds are not far removed from cast of the Jersey Shore, they're now getting spray-tans.

10:26pm: The show's token gay admits to having every physical imperfection surgically removed from his body and he wants to encourage everyone to be the best they can be.

10:27pm: We just learned that a “very unprofessional email” at SXSW caused two of the cast members to dislike each other.

10:32pm: Dudes are chugging bottles of Jameson and arguing about derivatives.  It looks like they are enjoying themselves.

10:39pm: Currently watching the most jargon-laden girl fight of all time: contains 300% more buzzwords than your average girl fight.

10:41pm: Is this over yet? I really want to know what Piers Morgan thinks of Mitt Romney's inefficient use of all 140 characters Twitter generously affords.

10:43pm: How could we be so far into this show without seeing a single neckbeard?

10:45pm: Ikea just aired a commercial featuring up a little kid walking into things, which pretty much sums up this show.

10:48pm: It's obvious this show is about the hanger-ons.  Calling them incompetent isn't fair to the incompetent, as the word implies effort, no matter how incapable.  When these guys are on some Lifetime “Where Are They Now?” Saturday night special in 10 years, I suspect to hear lots of “I got into fashion design” and rumors about summers spent dwelling in parent's basements.

10:50pm: These entrepreneurs are breaking all the rules by showing up to the fundraising meeting hungover.

10:52pm: Actual quote: “My sister's ways are unconventional, but so are Silicon Valley's, so maybe that's why she does so well.”  She's wearing Tetris tights and taking a “power nap” under the investor's conference room table.

10:57pm: New Silicon Valley Buzzword: “Passion”.

11:01pm: Surprise! Their start-up was rejected by the investor! Now people are tossing drinks in people's faces!

11:02pm: For the first time in my life, I truly understand and appreciate all the time, effort, skill, pain, ups, downs, and heartache that goes into building the Valley's many start-ups.  Thank you, Bravo.

11:03pm: And for the closing credits, here's a sparkling “Zuckerberg Media” logo.  Not quite as humble as “A Mark Zuckerberg Production”, but it's alright.

11:04pm: Argh, this show was unwatchably bad and probably beneath criticism. Same time and place next week?

Statistics (roughly):

  • Arrows drawn: 1
  • Curses: 12
  • Mentions of the word “money”: 5
  • People crying: 2
  • People in underwear: 4
  • Instances of bragging about “connections”: 3
  • Mentions of the word “blogger”: 7
  • Minutes of my life lost: 81

Start-up Founder: The Flavor of the Mission "Probably Won't Be That Interesting in 5 Years"

It's that time again—another day, another video about gentrification.  It can get tiring, we know.  But this one fascinated us.

Why?  Well, for starters, it's not shot with a cellphone. But more curiously, it's weird to hear a start-uppy guy—speculative after a nurturing breakfast at Craftsman & Wolves—say the Mission won't be that interesting down the road.

That's not to say we haven't heard that line before either, because people have been claiming the Mission would be lame in 5 years since the 80s.  And that fear has been coming up to the surface a lot lately (for some of the funniest thoughts on this, former neighborhood comic Chris Garcia has been working on a pretty solid bit about Apple Storification of Valencia restaurants).  However, when it comes time for finger-pointing, tech is oft on the receiving end, not the other way around.


Uber Wants Every Taxi Fare For Themselves

Let's not pretend I don't have an inherent dislike for the start-up Uber, because I do.  Their promotions are awful, the Town Car-first transit offering always struck me as an arrogant flaunting of tech wealth, and their name is just douchie.  But this isn't about that.

Yesterday, Uber unveiled their new “Uber TAXI” service.  No, they're not rolling out their own yellow cabs on the city streets, rather turning our existing unreliable cabs into Uber-powered taxis.  Uber explains:

  • Drivers will continue to use the meter in their taxis and will input the fare into their Uber iPhones at the end of the trip. This will include all tolls and out-of-city surcharges that would normally apply for any SF taxi ride
  • A 20% gratuity will be added to your fare, plus a $1 booking fee. This will be done automatically and charged to your credit card, exactly like a standard Uber ride

They go to point out that it isn't a dispatch service, but rather an “electronic hail” that goes out to pre-approved, city-licensed taxi drivers, much like Taxi Magic.  The critical difference is that they work with all cab companies, as long as the individual driver is up to Uber snuff, and payment is done in-app.  As they say, “Because CHOICE is a beautiful thing.”

But is this really giving us a choice, or taking more cabs off the streets and into a private network?

It's highly unlikely cabbies today receive a 20% tip on every fare they pick up, so Uber's pricing model creates this vicious, market-cornering cycle.  Considering flagging down a cab in this city is as difficult as finding a decent slice of pizza, Uber will find customers willing to put up with the inflated $1 + 20% price for a more reliable ride.  Drivers will clearly prioritize Uber's customers over the dumb slobs waiving their hands on the corner because of said 20% gratuity, taking even more available cabs off the streets and thus creating more demand for Uber's “hailing” services.

The net effect isn't we have more cabs or a more reliable service (Uber themselves admit they cannot “fix” the number of taxis on the streets, as the city only has “about 1,500” medallions available), but rather we have to pay more money for the same, lousy taxi services we already have kinda available today.  Brilliant business, yes, but undeniably evil.

Anyway, I'm glad I own I bike.

[Photo by Ian Fuller]

Stolen Bike Finder: A Website to Keep an Eye Out For Your Stolen Bike So You Don't Have To

The only thing worse than having to take Muni home from the bar because your bike was lifted is trying to recover it.  There's constantly monitoring Craigslist and eBay, never mind canvassing used bike shops, flea markets, and 7th and Market.

Considering how much bike theft happens in our city and that it's a “risk-free crime“—only encouraging more and more of it—you'd think there would be a better way to recover your ride.  I think tech blogs refer to this as a “market ripe for disruption.”

Well, the stats bloggers over at Priceonomics thought this situation needed some attention and created the Stolen Bike Finder.  Rohin from Priceonomics explains:

The solution we built is based on the only effective solution to bike theft we’ve encountered - self-policing by victims. If your bike is stolen, try to find where the thief is selling it and stop them. In San Francisco, bike theft victims know to search for their bikes at 7th and Market, the Oakland flea market and on the local Craigslist. The result of this self-policing? Thieves have to put the bikes on a van and sell them in another market. That’s a major pain in the ass for them.

So that’s what we decided to build. A tool to help you track down your bike when it gets stolen and make it really hard for criminals to flip it for a profit by selling it online. A dragnet for stolen bikes.

A fuckin' dragnet for stolen bikes? How does it work?:

If your bike is stolen in San Francisco and the thief is selling it in Los Angeles, now you have a way to find it. If they’ve stripped the bike down to its frame and are trying to auction it off, you can find it too. You can search on the site or set an alert and we’ll notify when bikes matching the description pop up. Once you find it, you can contact local police to figure out how to get it back.

Basically, you'll still have to check-up on 7th and Market daily, but it'll keep an eye on the internet for you.  (And we know how much you love checking out the sights and smells of mid-Market, so we'll call this a win.)

[Stolen Bike Finder]

Mark Zuckerberg Moves to the Mission District

We sure have been seeing a lot of Facebook's billionaire “I'm CEO, Bitch” living the slow food high life in our fine neighborhood this past year.  From sunny days in Dolores Park, to late-night beer and burrito outings at Phone Booth and Farolito (with a little line-standing at the chosen foodie hot spot Wise Sons mixed in), it seems Mark has been trying to fancy himself as a pure blood poor person.

It has led us to wonder if he is trying to reinvent himself as a “Mission hipster” and others to declare the Mission as “the neighborhood Facebook built.”  It's even spawned some fantastical rumors among neighborhood chatterers that he might be living part-time in La Lengua.

Well, it seems as though the rumors might be more than that, as BuzzFeed's Reyhan Harmanci reports on the claims that Zuckerberg has made the Mission his new home (under the bold headline, “The Heart Of Silicon Valley Is Now In The Mission”, no less):

The techies' migration from suburban Palo Alto to the charmingly gritty — and once less charmingly gritty — urban neighborhood has come in waves, but really settled in this summer when the scene's low-profile king, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, began being spotted around a house at the edge of the Mission, near Noe Valley. But his arrival here, and his cohort's, isn't just a real estate choice: it marks the merger of tech culture and culture at large, a new hybrid in a neighborhood and a city whose key industry used to stand a bit apart. The first tech boom, of the late '90s, brought an influx of new people in the Mission — but it's hard to imagine that the hardcore engineers would have been happy with, say, the level of gang violence and messy artist warehouses a decade ago.

Now, with most of the rough edges sanded off of the previously-poor district, the tech guys are the Mission's mascots, the cool kids. Love it or hate it, the musicians and weirdos who won the neighborhood its hip reputation in the first place have mostly grown-up, fled to Oakland or both. The street artist [movement] “Mission School,” led by figures like Barry McGee and Chris Johanson, is dead.

But Zuckerberg spends time on Dolores Street, often walking his dog, and his part-time residence (he also has a much-photographed home in Palo Alto) is an open secret in the neighborhood. Though residents wondered at first about rather sizable security detail parked in a quiet corner, it appears to be paying some unexpected dividends: apparently a private security guy chased down a would-be burglar recently.

The move makes sense, especially given that Valencia Street pretty much looks like downtown Palo Alto anyway.  But one big question remains: will he be taking the Facebook bus or driving to work?

(Oh, and welcome to the neighborhood, Mark!)


CityMatch: Easing the Transition from College to Urban Life Since 1998

Thanks for coming to CityMatch™! We’re really happy you could make it. Please, have a seat over there. We here at CityMatch™ have been working tirelessly help to assimilate you to your first post-college, metropolitan city living experience. Our resident team of supercomputers use a randomized, 14-point compatibility algorithm to ensure that your transition into this new life will be smooth and painless. We know that giving up college life for adulthood is sometimes disappointing, but don’t worry, we here at CityMatch™ will teach you how to find the joy in your new-found adulthood. 

Here, take this pamphlet, and memorize everything inside of it, it has the complete vernacular used to express your exaggerated appreciation for all the foods the city has to offer. In no time, you will expand your lexicon to include essential city jargon like “Artisan”, “Brewmaster”, and “Gorgonzola”. Until now, you’ve spent your entire adult life going to “parties” and getting “tanked”. Well, that was college, and college is over. From now on, you will spend your time going to bars and restaurants, to talk to friends and coworkers about the bars and restaurants you were at yesterday. 

It’s important that you buy a Messenger Backpack right away. Sure, it just looks like an airplane-seatbelt that goes over your chest (and if you’ve been in an airplane before, you know that isn’t how that goes), but it’s actually a slated insignia of bikeliness. Proudly sash it across your personage, to make other city inhabitants think you ride a bike—always giving people the impression that you ride a bike is a very important part of living in a city (possibly the most important part). Not only will this help expedite your assimilation into normative city culture, making people think you are a cyclist means you are pretending to be working towards doing your infinitesimal part in preserving the planet. Very important city stuff. Very important. 

In the mean time, here is a totebag.  Just write the name of your startup on the side of it. Yes, you work at a startup now, you just moved to the city, remember? It’s not hard work, just show up and be professional. Try to limit the frequency of bringing your cat to work to two days a week, and in meetings, take your nose ring out before you pick your nose. Remember, professionalism is key. You’ll do great, just think of every work day as a theme party, where the theme is ‘Cargo Shorts’. Look, here comes the Vice President of your startup now! His job is to wander around your company looking concerned, flailing his arms and violently flexing his face. Don’t worry If he constantly asks you ambiguous questions about “where you see yourself in 5 months”—that’s totally normal. The purpose of these questions are both to make you realize your own lack of foresight, and routinely call into question your job security.

Now, seeing as apartments are very expensive here in the city, you are going to need some roommates. Having roommates will allow you to not have to take residence in an unsuitable living situation, like in your car or in a lazily-gentrified ethnic neighborhood. Looking at the report that that our resident supercomputer has produced, we have matched you with some compatible roommates down to a level of .001% accuracy. The system is very good, it put the ladies from TLC together in a studio apartment in the 90’s. Let’s meet your roommates: Gwen, Ivan, and Roots. Now, Gwen spends her time in the living room drowning her social anxiety with a synthesis of pot and cat-ownership. Ivan will have no money, but an inexplicable plenitude of bicycles, and will often offer his least favorite bike in lieu of paying his share of rent. Roots is an eco-terrorist who is intent on, as he puts it, “exploding congress”. He also bakes gluten-free muffins! You guys will get along famously.

I think you are ready to go out there. Thank you for choosing CityMatch™, and on behalf of myself and my resident team of supercomputers, welcome to the big city! Before you go, I want you to meet Tony. This is Tony, he’s a magical elf who will follow you around and talk about how your coffee place is inferior to his. All residents of the city are issued one, but you have to put down a deposit of $100 and promise you won’t leave him locked up to a parking meter overnight. Now go make the best of everything this city has to offer, and start planning your inevitable move to a different city.