back to article Mystery Google barges TORPEDOED by US govt: Showrooms declared death traps

Google's ambitious plan to build floating showrooms out of giant barges was killed over fears the boats were death traps. Documents obtained by the Wall Street Journal reveal the advertising giant ran afoul of US Coast Guard safety inspectors, who believed the barges posed a serious fire hazard to those on board. In …

  1. Brian Miller

    Shouldn't they have seen this coming?

    There are so many capable maritime consulting companies available, I don't see why they weren't hired to do the job right the first time around. Really, does Google really have a need to burn money stupidly like this?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Shouldn't they have seen this coming? You mean like Apple didn't?

      Obviously, no, it never occurred to Google that ships, boats and barges might be "complicated". Why would you think they'd be less arrogant than Apple? Apple's antennagate occurred because Apple didn't feel the need to have any RF engineers involved. Only after the fiasco did Apple start to hire some RF engineers.

      1. Uffish

        Re: Shouldn't they have seen this coming? You mean like Apple didn't?

        Apple didn't have RF engineers and they were making mobile phones? That is equivalent to saying that their management were just PHBs (or they were really, really big Harry Potter fans).

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Shouldn't they have seen this coming? You mean like Apple didn't?

        oh good, I was worried we wouldn't be able to find an apple angle...

    2. Mage

      Re: Shouldn't they have seen this coming?

      No, because it's typical Google Arrogance,

    3. skeptical i
      Pint

      But if they acted sensibly we would not have a story. [was: Shouldn't they have seen this coming?]

      Just as we can not have a horror movie without someone doing something stupid ("instead of calling 911 and getting guys with guns over here, I'll go down into the basement in nothing but my pyjamas and a flashlight to see what that loud rumbling and shaking is about"), companies have to also do stupid stuff to keep their names in the news.

      No popcorn icon, but beer's better anyway. -->

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The REAL problem was building it in San Francisco, California

    There are many examples of barge-like vessels in the US. Such as the river boats on the Mississippi river. The REAL problem IMO was choosing to build/locate them in the most liberal city in the entire US.

    I'm sure there could have been appropriate changes made to address the safety concerns, but the local public attitude against the barges is what probably made the final decision to dump the projects. Of course there were local marine/construction jobs lost from the decision as well. San Francisco, biting the had that feeds it and hurting the working-class at the same time.

    Just my personal opinion.

    btw. The top employer in the city is the city government itself, employing 5.3% (25,000+ people) of the city's population, followed by UCSF (public university) with over 22,000 employees.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The REAL problem was building it in San Francisco, California

      You and I have different understandings of the word "liberal".

      I thought liberal meant the same as "laissez faire", the freedom to act independently.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The REAL problem was building it in San Francisco, California

        "I thought liberal meant the same as "laissez faire", the freedom to act independently."

        Liberal has also become a word that right-wing USA republicans use to describe anything they don't like.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @AC Re: The REAL problem was building it in San Francisco, California

          That's because the US hard left rebranded themselves as "liberal" in order to escape the stigma of the labels "socialist" and "progressive", both of which were discredited in US politics by the 1950s. As is the way with such things the label trickled down to everything left of centre and is becoming discredited in turn by its association with authoritarian dipshits.

          1. asdf

            Re: @AC The REAL problem was building it in San Francisco, California

            > both of which were discredited in US politics by the 1950s.

            Kind of like McCarthy and southern Jim Crow laws?

        2. Uffish

          Re: The REAL problem was building it in San Francisco, California

          'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'

          When that was written it was intended as a humourous example of nonsense.

          1. Vincent Ballard
            Coat

            Re: The REAL problem was building it in San Francisco, California

            Or (and while I don't endorse it, it's certainly an intriguing theory) as an attack on practitioners of non-Euclidean geometry.

        3. P. Lee

          Re: The REAL problem was building it in San Francisco, California

          >Liberal has also become a word that right-wing USA republicans use to describe anything they don't like.

          Liberal: also "generous."

          --

          Laissez-faire usually has trade/commerce/corporate connotations whereas liberal usually refers to individual freedom.

          However, politics in general appears to be less tolerant than it used to be, with both sides trying to ram their ethics down the others' throats. The normal way of solving this is to have "self-determination" (the objective of democracy), enacted by different states allowing different laws. However, it is apparently easier to "get things done" by bypassing the democratic process using the judiciary.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The REAL problem was building it in San Francisco, California

        "Liberal" covers ideas like favouring individual liberty, free trade, open-minded, not prejudiced and so on. Also "not strict or rigorous; not literal".

        I can't see how that sort of outlook can be blamed on safety inspectors doing their jobs thoroughly - if anything, you'd expect a liberal safety inspector to be more willing to bend the rules than average.

        It seems to me that the problem is simply that Google didn't bother with the safety regulations when outfitting its barges. Thus, the problem is nothing more than poor engineering.

        What's the betting that Google just assumed it could ignore rules which apply to everyone else?

        In US politics, the opposite of liberal is conservative: you'd expect conservatives to object to the Google barges much more than liberals, since conservatives of any sort are opposed to rapid change and these huge floating showrooms are new things.

        I was amused to read recently that from the Norwegian viewpoint, US liberals apparently count as conservative, while US conservatives apparently are considered regressive. Or so I read...

        1. Oninoshiko

          Re: The REAL problem was building it in San Francisco, California

          In the US, if you want that concept you want a libertarian or a Libertarian (yes, the capitalization makes a difference. One is a philosophy, the other a political party (which gets next to no seats)).

        2. Lars Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: The REAL problem was building it in San Francisco, California

          "from the Norwegian viewpoint, US liberals apparently count as conservative". A link please, perhaps the Google translate fooled you. You Americans are so damned fooled by those totally worthless "one" words. When kids in kindergarten point their finger and call each other this and that. you smile and I smile at you. A one word language is not worth much. ugh Ugh ugh ugh UGH! ugh... ugh?.

          On the other hand if "liberal" is "conservative" then everything is going towards the extreme where the "left" and "right" meet in what is sometimes called fascism, not a good spot, no matter how many tins of food you have in your bunker. Try "common sense", that is a good start, two words, and there is no left or right to it. Eventually it might lead to the ability to use several words in a sentence.

          I have for many years tried to find out how the hell something like Palin was allowed to enter the circus. Now I think it's all about a takeover by big money, Crook brothers and similar have decided to support the most stupid people they can find. Look how far, all the way to Alaska, they had to walk in order to find her, Dear Americans, next time vote for the people with the smallest budget You are being screwed. Look closer, you deserve better. I am not choosing the "animal" for you, just try to vote for the least stupid available.

          Oh well, this was about Google, then long ago, I expected them to do floating, water cooled, data centers they could move around the world, I was wrong, and I think they did not bother about any regulations.

          1. Eddy Ito

            Re: The REAL problem was building it in San Francisco, California

            Palin got in the circus because a bunch of analysts thought having a female on the ticket would win enough of the estrogen vote while keeping the Pat Robertsons of the world on board. Like most analysts they really don't understand what the market, which in this case means voting public, is really looking for. As a result we get these hackneyed combinations of candidates that try to pull in the outer fringe of a particular segment while not pissing off the ones they call their 'base'. You've hit the nail squarely on the head in that political life isn't a cabaret, it's definitely a circus with an odd emphasis for the hall of mirrors.

            1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Re: Palin got in the circus

              I always thought he got in the circus because of his writing with Terry Jones?

        3. WalterAlter
          Devil

          Re: The REAL problem was building it in San Francisco, California

          Classical "liberalism" is merely the overlay of capitalist machine production on top of the aristocracy's penchant for heartless exploitation, divine narcissism, Napoleonism, pageantry, bombast and bluster. Liberals are actually neo-feudalists in technocrat clothing wanting only to do a little housecleaning on planet Earth to rid us of various human vermin and useless bread gobblers via the agency of "overpopulation". Scratch the paint on a liberal and you'll see that it's actually an updated Caligula model.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dq9yjt_JbWs

      3. skeptical i
        Devil

        Re: The REAL problem was building it in San Francisco, California

        In America, 'liberal' and 'conservative' seem to be more about product branding and/or name-calling than internal consistency, at least as seen from my armchair. Some examples:

        - "Liberals" are generally in favor of restrictions on the ability to possess firearms while "conservatives" want guns for all; it seems it should be the other way 'round.

        - "Conservatives" who bang on about keeping Big Gubmint out of our business seem quite content to have (nay, urge) same Big Gubmint mucking about in how women oversee and maintain their lady parts.

        - Ditto on who can enter into a marriage contract with whom.

        - "Conservatives" don't often have much positive to say about conservation -- forest lands are for turning trees into money by campaign contributors, not for the public to access and enjoy.

        - Many "liberals" have been branded as NIMBYs ("not in my back yard") who are BANANAs ("build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything"), sometimes with justification and sometimes not.

        Caveat that these are gross simplifications, but still, it keeps politics interesting.

    2. Eddy Ito

      Re: The REAL problem was building it in San Francisco, California

      Funny thing is the San Francisco Belle operates out of San Francisco. Perhaps Google should have looked for the fellows who built that and asked for something similar. I think the juxtaposition of an old style paddlewheeler with high tech interior would have been rather appropriate in San Francisco.

    3. asdf

      Re: The REAL problem was building it in San Francisco, California

      You mean San Francisco the metro area that has a higher GDP than the states Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas combined? I could actually fit in at least 5 or 6 other southern states as well if include the entire greater bay area. Perhaps San Francisco doesn't need riverboat type buildings to survive unlike much of the Gulf coast.

    4. Dan Paul

      Re: The REAL problem was building it in San Francisco, California

      You couldn't be more correct as SF want to regulate every linear inch of it's waterfront and their people.

      Being one of the most far left leaning (liberal? more like socialist) cities in the world wouldn't help as you mentioned.

      Unlike Seattle, Washington (where this idea probably originated) where house boats abound and large wooden structures on barges are rather common and fairly unregulated.

      1. Uffish

        Re: "in the world."

        I must have dozed off. San Francisco has gone, like, socialist? It's "one of the most far left leaning" administrations in the world? What year is it? Last I knew it was 2014.

    5. asdf

      Re: The REAL problem was building it in San Francisco, California

      Also that is why the headline is TORPEDOED by US govt: too huh? I guess in your mind the south secession has happened again already. I am all for it but then again we would have yet another country to the south of us bleeding economic refugees.

      1. Dan Paul

        Re: The REAL problem was building it in San Francisco, California

        You can't/don't even read before you react, moron. The US government does not have control over the local real estate. The coast guard regulates vessels but if you tie it up on a dock permanently the locality governs it like they would a house or commercial property. Google was treating this barge like a building and poorly. Obviously, they did not pay enough graft to the right inspectors.

        My response had nothing to do with the feds. You Euros don't understand the difference between what is State and Federal and that's not the least of your problems.

        Excuse me while I anticipate a few more downvotes from even more morons that failed reading comprehension.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

    6. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

      Re: The REAL problem was building it in San Francisco, California

      Barge-like vessels that pass inspection probably don't have seven floors of air-tight steel walls that would convert a fire into an occupant-mulching high power explosion.

  3. Mark 85 Silver badge

    I'm believing that Google really didn't think the Coast Guard inspections would apply to them. Maybe they didn't Google enough for what's expected or even the requirements or a business in their area with the expertise. The barges and tows that operate on the inland waters have a lot of experience with these things and they take this stuff very seriously.

    As for burning money... oh yeah, obviously they do have enough. They own a small air force and base it at Moffett Field. Those luxury jets and their parking space aren't cheap.

    I would hope that Google will start taking things to heart... that they can't get away with whatever they want. Hubris really isn't the right word as some of this crap goes way beyond it.

    1. asdf

      >Hubris really isn't the right word as some of this crap goes way beyond it.

      Hopefully they don't get in Enron's ballpark and laugh about Grandma's rolling blackouts.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      FAIL

      huh?

      How did the plans ever get approved to begin the construction?

      1. Eddy Ito

        Re: huh?

        I suppose it depends on where the things were going to be registered. I understand there are some landlocked and lake free nations that have great deals on taxes for large vessels.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ITS ALL A SIMPLE MISUNDERSTANDING...

    ...Larry Page has been over to Blighty quite a few times, and on one of his visits he was treated to a ride on a Canal Barge on the Thames. He was so taken with this genteel form of transport that he called up a subordinate in the US and got him to order Larry 'An hat trick of barges' (Larry's very words, according to my sources) The subordinate then started flicking through the Yellow Pages for 'Barges for Sale' and the rest is history. When he got back home Larry was 'Gutted' (his words) to find that the Barges were 'Wronguns' (his words) and through no fault of his own Larry had to go back to gettting around in his private Planes, Trains and Automobiles, but no barges......brings a tear to the eye.

    1. asdf

      Re: ITS ALL A SIMPLE MISUNDERSTANDING...

      Wow an El Reg AC that made me smile. Don't see that often.

  5. thames

    Who designed these things?

    I'm wondering who designed these things in the first place? Wouldn't they need to engage a competent marine engineering firm who would have foreseen all these problems? Would any insurance company touch something like this with a barge pole if it wasn't certified and inspected?

    You can't put up a building without meeting building codes and passing inspections. Ships (powered or not) have their own set of recognized standards and fire is a very serious hazard at sea. We see news stories now and again where a ship is detained in port because the authorities think it is not seaworthy and won't let it sail until it's brought up to snuff.

    The original newspaper story appears to be pay-walled, so I can't see the details. However, this whole thing sounds very, very, odd.

    The whole concept sounded very dubious to begin with from a practical and economic stand point. A floating showroom? Why? I would not be surprised if the project was on shaky grounds from a business standpoint and the failed inspections were enough for its opponents to kill it rather than attempt to correct the engineering deficiencies.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Who designed these things?

      maybe they (Google) don't have to worry, financially about something like this as they can probably write it off as a business expense and claim it back on the tax.....the average American citizen on the other hand will probably be contributing a portion of their hard earned to this folly indirectly.....

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Who designed these things?

      You beat me to it.

    3. Jos

      Re: Who designed these things?

      According to an article from 2013, the architects were San Francisco-based Gensler and New York-based LOT-EK.

      http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/matier-ross/article/Google-barge-mystery-unfurled-4966375.php

      I guess it looked good on paper...

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why would anybody think that putting 17 tons of diesel fuel on the deck is a good idea ?

    I'm not surprised it was rejected.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  7. Camilla Smythe

    Presumably

    This was part of the whatever % free time the Chocolate Factory gives to its Choclateers in an effort to stuff Ferrero Rocher, who are responsible for Nutella but do not make Hershey Bars. Deep fried Mars Bars and where Pop Stars might put them, deep fried or otherwise... ERM.

    I think you will find that Google has "Fuck You Money", "Stuff You Money", "Don't Care Money", "Not Bothered Money", "Loads'a Money", bosh bosh, and spare left over for the Lobbyists, Lawyers and Politicians.

    Obviously all paid for by 'you'... AKA "All Your Money".

    "I know what you're thinking: "Did he fire six shots or only five?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I've kinda lost track myself. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya, punk?"

    ..and "Money Left Over", although the magazine will not be as questionably empty and self reloads by 'crossing the streams'.

    Egon Spengler: There's something very important I forgot to tell you.

    Venkman: What?

    Spengler: Don't cross the streams.

    Venkman: Why?

    Spengler: It would be bad.

    Venkman: I'm fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean, "bad"?

    Spengler: Try to imagine all of your money getting sucked out of your wallet and used against you.

    Stantz: Total wallet suckage with repercussions?.

    Venkman: Right. That's bad. Okay. All right. Important safety tip. Thanks, Egon.

    Stantz: Whoa! Does that include my Moths?

    Venkman: Egon?

    Spengler: And the wallet.

    Stantz: What else?

    Spengler: Everything.

    Venkman: Who else knows about this Egon?

    Spengler: Only me. I did a search on Google.

    Stantz: Venkman: Oh Crap!!

  8. Alan Denman

    17 toones of bluff

    The QE2 has 300 times that.

    If only they were close to water.

    So how did bars on ships ever get a license ?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Trollface

    Oh Noes! Will have to find another use for them.

    Temporary containment for Ebola, Immigrants, Aliens.

    If only those who did the procurement could have seen it coming eh.

    FEMA hospitality suite is my bet.

  10. stringyfloppy

    Floating Showrooms?

    Why does Google need floating showrooms? Has anyone explained this?

    "Google Show Room...soon will be making another run.

    Google Show Room...promises something for everyone!"

    .

    .

    .

    .

    "Google Show Room -- life's perfect reward..." I think this could be a hit..

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