Welcome to our post-apocalyptic world. You can find the last remaining civilization in San Francisco. Or something like that. It’s startling how much this simple time lapse of a San Francisco sunset makes it look like nuclear bombs have gone off and destroyed everything we know. But nope, just a normal sunset in the bay.
For 24 years, a small troll lived a quiet life on the Bay Bridge. He hid in a shadowed spot on a beam of the former eastern span. Sure, you say, a troll. But really! The wee steel creature was welded by a blacksmith after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and affixed to the repaired stretch of the bridge to symbolically ward off future damage.
Few have met him, but bridge workers and boaters have reported catching glimpses of the elusive troll over the years. And as construction came to a close on the new span this past fall, workers whisked him off to safety to avoid demolition.
The old troll in his secret hideout
In November the sculpture reemerged from a two-month vacation and was placed on public view at the Oakland Museum of California, where visitors can meet and greet him until February 23.Currently, his official retirement plans are still in the works.
So now that the troll is in the museum, who is doing troll duty on the new Bay Bridge? And wait, do we really need a new troll? Are you fucking with me? These are questions I fired at a stranger recently, while sailing beneath I-80 on the way to Treasure Island. Apparently this dude’s dad had helped make the new troll. Mind blown, I went digging for the fairytale-like facts.
The OG troll was created in 1989 by blacksmith and artist Bill Roan during the post-quake reconstruction. Roan was working with Michael Bondi Metal Design to repair the crumbled East Span when Mr. Bondi himself suggested they forge a gargoyle or whimsical badass of sorts and attach it to the bridge, rogue-style.
Inspired by the Norwegian tale of “Three Billy Goats Gruff,” Roan envisioned a troll with a dragon’s face, serpent-like tongue, and webbed hands clutching a spud wrench, and used pieces of the collapsed bridge to create the ugly-cute creature. The 14 to 24-inch troll (his size depends on who you ask and when – some weird folklore shit, I guess) was stealthily welded in place, sans permission of Caltrans authorities.
“In essence the troll is a protector, a good spirit,” Bondi told me. “He was made as a token of respect for those who worked hard at putting up the bridge, and in reverse, for those who repaired the bridge.”
Hence why the newest portion of the bridge needed another friend bolted to its belly. Bondi’s company was commissioned to make a second creature last year; a new hire who can pick up where the old guy left off. Bondi reports that the 2013 troll, called Junior, was created from a single block of steel and all the guys in his shop lent an artistic hand in its construction: Humberto Somayoa, Freddy Rodriguez, Alfonso Vasquez, Felipe Vasquez, Socrates Vasquez.
Junior’s nasty mug, intimidating horns, and awkward, spindly legs have been caught on camera, but no one has been able to confirm whether or not the sculpture has been assigned a home. Upholding mystique, The Bay Area Toll Authority wont give up the particulars of Junior’s newest digs, but spokesman John Goodwin ensures the spot will stay true to standard troll requirements.
“That he be kept in a shaded location, out of direct sunlight, less he be turned to stone,” he told me, grin detectable even over the phone.
It’s also rumored that the troll may be partially visible from the pedestrian-bike path. Don’t be surprised to see me there this weekend, with binoculars and perhaps, a couple of goats. Maybe his miniature sledgehammer will ping the steel hello.
Image of the old troll by billonahill via Flickr; images of Junior courtesy of Michael Bondi
China claims it has found a way to create a supersonic underwater vessel that could travel from China to San Francisco in less than two hours using new developments in supercavitation. This could be extremely useful for travel—but also for the development of underwater weapons. In fact, this is a military project.
This technique was originally developed for Shakval, a torpedo capable of reaching 230 miles per hour (370 km/h) developed by the Soviet Navy during the Cold War. The size of the bubble and the speed was limited.
Now this new Chinese research claims they have found a way to generate a much bigger air bubble, drastically reducing friction of large underwater vessels. They say they would be able to create a full-size supercavitating submarine capable of reaching the speed of sound underwater—about 3603 mph (5,800km/h). That or a sneaky, big ass supersonic nuclear missile, of course.
Now this is how you enjoy summer. You go to San Francisco, you lay out blue tarp on a city street, you bust open a fire hydrant and you create one of the biggest Slip ‘n Slides ever. Oh and you ride that thing down while screaming out of your mind. It’s absolutely perfect for a sunny summer day.
Devin Super Tramp, the creator of the video, and his friends sure know how to live. It’s an ad for something but I don’t care, I just want to slip n slide forever in San Francisco now.
San Francisco’s plan to legalize the armada of tech buses has sailed past its last regulatory hurdle. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency voted today to approve increased fees charged to tech companies for using city bus stops, as part of its controversial shuttle pilot program.
According to KQED News, SFMTA raised the per-stop fee charged to shuttle operators from $1 up to $3.55. The fee was increased for two reasons. Residents demanded fewer city stops be included in the pilot program, which means there would be less revenue coming in, and the projected administrative costs were higher than anticipated.
Carli Paine, the manager for the SFMTA pilot program, said providers are making about 40 percent fewer stops than initial estimates suggested.
Paine said the fees will cover the program’s fixed costs and will be spread over 2,449 stops, well under the 4,121 stops originally estimated. […]
The total estimated program cost is expected to be $3.7 million, more than the January estimate of $1.7 million.
When the program was initially proposed, local activists complained that tech companies were being charged too little. But raising the fee by 255 percent hasn’t seemed to placate the protesters. According to San Francisco Chronicle transit reporter Michael Cabanatuan, who covered today’s SFMTA board hearing, they still feel like their voices have been unheard.
Those critics are proceeding with a lawsuit, challenging the luxury shuttle program on environmental grounds. But it’s unlikely that the suit will prevent the pilot from going forward: Google buses are slated to begin rolling legally through San Francisco on August 1st.
[Photo: Ryan Blauvelt]
Tesla’s next electric car officially has a name: The Model 3. It seems like an all-around average sedan, no crazy up-swinging falcon doors or other outlandishness. Even the $35,000 price is pedestrian. It’s also what could make it as important to automotive history as the Model T.
To understand why that price tag is such a game-changer, you don’t need to look much further than Tesla’s current lineup: a two-seat convertible for $100,000, and a luxury sedan for $70,000. These are niche vehicles with limited markets, and while Tesla has exceeded its own sales targets for the less pricey Model S, that still only amounts to a paltry 23,000 cars sold in 2013. Toyota, by contrast, sold that many Camrys in the US in the first 20 days of last year.
But a $35,000 Tesla? That’s Toyota Avalon or Chevy Impala money. A sub-40k car isn’t a plaything for George Clooney; it’s a daily driver your kid’s basketball coach could buy. And it knocks down the last, most difficult hurdle that’s prevented electric cars from truly hitting the mainstream.
Building a Grid
But wait! you say. The Nissan Leaf prices in the mid-twenties. The Mitsubishi i-MiEVcompares favorably on price to a carton of smokes. You’re right, of course. But you’re forgetting about one crucial point: infrastructure.
How do you charge a Leaf or a i-MiEV? You plug it into your garage, or, if you live in a progressive city and the parking gods are smiling, you juice up at a charger-equipped parking spot. There aren’t a whole lot of those around, and with both the Leaf and the i-MiEV averaging sub-100-mile battery range, you’re stuck pretty close to home.
Truthfully, that’s perfectly acceptable for 90 percent of the driving that 90 percent of Americans do. But that invisible extension cord feels mighty short when your neighbor’s gas hog can cruise back and forth across the country as many times as its driver can afford. The Model 3, meanwhile, has an range of more than twice what its low-cost competitors can achieve.
Tesla drivers don’t quite have the same ubiquitous network as drivers of dino-juice cars, but that’s changing. Tesla currently has 102 Supercharger stations across North America, where drivers can top up their batteries in around 20 minutes, for free. The company promises tocover 80 percent of the U.S. population by the end of this year. Tesla drivers have completedcoast-to-coast road trips by strategically stringing together Supercharger locations. It takes some serious planning, but it’s possible—and a lot more convenient than finding somewhere to charge your Leaf or i-MiEV overnight every 100 miles.
Current Tesla Supercharger locations in the U.S. The white bubbles show the typical range a Model S driver can reach on a full charge.
Now imagine that, instead of selling a few thousand expensive luxury sedans every year, Tesla sold tens of thousands of electric cars that regular folks can afford. Electric cars with a 200-mile range that do the same job as a Honda Accord or Volkswagen Passat, that you can charge up at a nearby Supercharger station for free. That makes electric cars a lot more compelling to the average buyer—and gives Tesla even more reason to start filling in those bare zones on the Supercharger map.
Not to mention that, with Tesla opening up its patented battery tech to anyone who wants it, you might someday be able to charge that future electric Honda or VW or whatever at a Supercharger station. Plenty of Supercharger customers, and plenty of reasons to build one on every street corner and off-ramp in America.
An Electric Car That Doesn’t Look Like an Appliance
In the automotive world, style is just as important as infrastructure. American buyers shun practicality when it comes in a plain, no-attitude wrapper; the 20-year popularity of SUVs was built almost entirely on fear of the minivan’s emasculating effects. How does that affect electric cars? Just look: the Nissan Leaf resembles an overgrown dust buster, and the Mitsubishi i-MiEV looks like a damned golf cart when parked alongside the average American grocery-getter.
Mitsubishi i-MiEV on the left, Nissan Leaf on the right. Not pictured: elegance, beauty, attitude, or style.
Compare those rolling cough drops to these alleged Model 3 renders published by Auto Express. Even if the real Model 3 doesn’t look exactly like this, it’s sure to have the same kind of Tesla design language you see here. That sultry, delicious design language.
Now that’s a car you’d be proud to sign a three-year lease on.
Fit To a T
It’s no coincidence how Tesla timed this. First it brought out the Roadster, a fast but somewhat shoddy first attempt at an electric car. Next came the Model S: refined and well-developed enough that both Motor Trend and Automobile Magazine named it 2013’s car of the year. All the while, Tesla built an infrastructure of charging stations that made these expensive machines more real-world friendly.
Now the foundation has been laid. The infrastructure is sound and expanding. The brand is universally known, an American success story helmed by a geek-culture hero with larger-than-life pockets. Tesla is poised to go from a household name to an appliance in every household, and the Model 3 is how that happens.
Cranking out commuter cars for the stable middle class doesn’t seem like a rockstar move when you’re building rockets and picking out grave sites on Mars. But Musk knows that an affordable, practical electric car will do for 21st century motoring what Henry Ford’s affordable, practical gasoline-powered car did for 20th century roads.
The similarities to the Model T are worth pointing out. Ford didn’t invent the car, and by 1908 when the first Model T rolled off the assembly line, four-wheeled horseless carriages were well known. But those cars were unattainably costly for average folk, and roads were still built to convey horses and carriages. The few cars that did ply America’s byways were powered by anything from gasoline to electricity or even steam.
Fast forward to 1927: the last Model T rolls out of the Dearborn, Michigan plant, into a world where roads are designed for automobiles and gasoline flows from roadside pumps across the land. There’s plenty of competition among makers of affordable cars—competition that sprang up in response to Ford and the Model T.
Our grandkids will still learn about the Model T, how it permanently changed the way America looked and functioned. But I’m betting they’ll also learn about another car, one associated with the seismic shift that turned us away from dinosaur-powered vehicles. I’m betting they’ll be talking about the Model 3.