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Andrew Pollock


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Friday, 08 January 2010

TransLink, the Bay Area's best kept public transportation secret?

We're not huge users of Caltrain, because frankly, it sucks. It's way slower than driving to San Francisco, and by the time you've paid for two return tickets, you might as well have driven and paid for parking.

That said, we do use it from time to time. One of the things I noticed when we first moved over here was this intriguing box on a pole, to the side of the normal ticket vending machine. It looked all battered and faded, kind of like a deprecated form of ticketing that had been phased out years ago. Except it looked too high-tech to be phased out.

Fast forward to four years later, and we're using Caltrain to get back from SFO after returning from Atlanta for Christmas, and there's this "Don't forget to tag off" TransLink poster inside the carriage. I'm now officially intrigued.

I did some browsing of their website on the journey home. How could this be? Hong Kong's MTR has the Octopus Card. London's Tube has the Oyster Card, and the Bay Area has TransLink? Why the hell isn't this thing being pimped out more? It's awesome! I mentioned it to a co-worker the other day, who's been in the Bay Area for 7 years, and he'd never heard of it.

So I signed up for it for myself and Sarah, and two cards promptly arrived. If you sign up with an autoload of $20 or more, there's no cost for cards at all.

So from now on, whenever we need to ride Caltrain (or BART or Muni, which are the public transport networks we're ever likely to use) we can just wave these cards at something and never have to worry about a ticket ever again. It's awesome. Apparently VTA is coming on board with it later this year, so that'll round things out nicely.

It sounds like it's been an epic implementation, starting back in 1999, and still rolling out ten years later. Better late than never.

The added bonus will be for our visitors. When they come, we can just give them these cards, and they won't have to deal with BART's utterly confusing (for casual riders) fare system.

One of my favourite things about Hong Kong was the MTR and the Octopus Card. Now we just need awesome mass transit for the Bay Area. Somehow, I think that's going to take even longer than TransLink.

[23:55] [life/americania] [permalink]

First encounter with the police

I was driving home from a late night at work recently, and I was almost home, when the car behind me lit up like a Christmas tree.

My immediate reaction was, "Oh crap, I'm tired and I wasn't paying attention to my speed". So I pulled over.

To my relief, it wasn't my speed that was the problem, my left-hand tail light was out. The officer was very nice about the whole thing, but he gave me a fix-it ticket.

He told me I had until I think some time in February to fix the problem, then I had to get a police officer to sign off that it had been fixed. I thought that was the end of it, and continued on my way home.

The other day, I got this official looking letter in the mail the Superior Court of California, County of Santa Clara. My initial thought was, "ha, the fools have issued me a jury summons like they did for Sarah. Can't they tell I'm an alien? Nanoo Nanoo."

So I open the letter and start scanning it. It's a courtesy notice. The first actual sentences I run into start with "Failure to respond to this notice by the due date may result in your bail being increased...". Huh? Bail? What?

It turns out that there's a bit more to the fix-it ticket story. Not only do I have to get a police officer to sign off that I've had the tail light fixed, to avoid going to court, I have to pay a $25 "dismissal fee" (also known as California is broke and needs every dollar it can get).

Today was the first day that either of us have had any time to scratch ourselves, so we trekked off to Toyota. The guy yanked off the cover inside the boot, and was poking around to show us where to change the bulb, when lo and behold, it started working again. So it was just a loose connector. Dammit.

So now I have to track down a police officer. Preferably under the cover of darkness, as we've tinted the front windows of the Prius, which is apparently cause for another fix-it ticket. Although I'm struggling to find the wording that specifically says that.

[23:26] [life/americania] [permalink]

Renovations coming along

v 1: restore to a previous or better condition
  2: make brighter and prettier
v 1: do over, as of (part of) a house
  2: cast or model anew

I much prefer the term renovate to remodel. Remodelling to me feels more like tearing down internal walls and changing the actual layout of the place. But we're in America, so remodelling it is.

We've had a bit of (mostly self-inflicted) scope creep. It started with just wanting to get some Ethernet cabling installed, then we decided to get recessed canned lighting (the whole lamp thing over here drives us nuts), and then we discovered that acoustic ("popcorn") ceilings are a haven for dust mites (we're both allergic) so it made sense to get the ceilings redone while they were putting the lights in. We're also getting the light switches replaced, and new childproof power outlets. We also got the electrical panel upgraded.

Removing popcorn ceilings is somewhat hilarious. They put down plastic everywhere, then have at it with a garden hose, and then it just scrapes off. The ceilings they've completely finished already look a million bucks, so we're very happy with the decision to do that. The Ethernet cabling installation caused a lot of wall carnage, so we're going to get the walls repainted as well.

Then we can get the carpets cleaned and stain proofed, and then we can start thinking about trying to move some non-essential stuff in. Hopefully it'll all be done by next weekend.

The kitchen cabinets have a six week lead time, so the kitchen remodelling will have to be done while we're living there.

Unfortunately some unexpectedly time demanding stuff has come up at work, right in the middle of this, so Sarah's had to do the bulk of the running around to sort out contractors for all of the work, and I've been stuck at work until all hours, 7 days a week. To cap it off, I've managed to come down with a cold, and feel quite crappy. NyQuil consumption is ensuing.

[22:46] [life] [permalink]

Twenty weeks later

Sarah hit the 20 week mark on Monday, and so we had the big anatomical ultrasound. We also found out that it looks like we're having a girl. We're now trying to come up with a name.

There was also a worrying piece of news: they couldn't see the cavum septum pellucidum, while they were checking out her brain.

Apparently the cavum septum pellucidum is a particular marker they look for when they're checking everything out.

Now what the absence of the cavum septum pellucidum actually means isn't terribly clear. Apparently normally this is found along with other abnormalities, but the rest of her brain structures look fine. The nuchal translucency we had earlier in the pregnancy came back fine also.

So we got bustled off to have a chat with the genetic counsellor (during which the 4.1 earthquake happened). We got booked in for an amniocentesis for later that afternoon, as well as a fetal MRI at 22 weeks, and trundled off home.

To cap things off, when we were trying to park back at the hospital for the 2pm appointment, I managed to scrape the car up against one of the poles in the car park. (The lower level parking is notoriously tight). Note to self: always use the free valet parking service from now on.

Sarah had some second thoughts about the amniocentesis, as it does carry with it some risk of miscarriage, and after chatting with with a couple of the obstetricians, we elected not to do it. The fetal MRI should definitively determine if the cavum septum pellucidum is absent, and then we can talk to a paediatric neurologist about what the ramifications of that might be.

One of the reasons they wanted to do an amniocentesis now, rather than after the fetal MRI, is the amniocentesis itself takes a couple of weeks for the results to come back, and that would bring us up to the 24 week mark. Apparently if we wanted to terminate the pregnancy, once it was at 24 weeks, we'd have to go to LA to do it.

Whilst I consider myself an atheist these days, I was raised a Catholic, and although I like to think of myself as pro-choice, I still have a lot of problems with abortion, so I don't think I'd be comfortable terminating unless it could be shown with reasonable certainty that our baby was going to be in a really bad way. Based on how the rest of the brain looked, and the nuchal translucency results, and the fact that the amniocentesis would only identify chromosomal and not genetic neurological disorders, I don't think we'll be aborting.

From my limited research, it sounds like the cavum septum pellucidum disappears at about 3 months after birth anyway, so looking at it one way, you could say our baby's brain is developing faster. Other research has indicated a correlation with optic nerve development issues, so I don't know if that means she might be blind. We really need to chat with a paediatric neurologist. But hopefully the fetal MRI will find it, and this will turn out to be nothing.

An anxious two weeks will now follow.

[22:21] [life] [permalink]