Friday, November 30, 2007

Living in nature is kind of a dream

Maybe it's better to live in a mostly artificial environment and then preserve large tracts of nature in open spaces.

Publicly owned open spaces.

This big tree was nice, but they cut it down. They must have worried that it would come down in a windstorm. Houses and large trees don't often mix and usually the houses win. I wouldn't want a tree crashing into my bedroom either.

Still it's kind of sad to see a big old tree go. I walk in this neighborhood quite often.

Maybe there are ways to prune so the tree is less of a hazard, but often people just take them out. Take off the limbs and then chop up the trunk into small pieces; firewood.

In the dry hills of California, houses and dry brush don't mix either. Still reading about southern California fires.

Here, it's the wind. Tall trees can make people nervous even though they look nice.

It's important to have publicly owned forest land that's only a bike ride away. Land that isn't full of houses.

Dwelling units should be clustered. My soapbox for density in planning. Rather than trying to live in mostly unmanaged nature, it's more realistic to just visit there.

Preserve public open space and cluster the development. It might mean one is not following the dream of living in nature, but one can still visit there.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Mortgage crisis

This is really a deeper issue than just a mortgage crisis. Buying residential property has been a fad so prices have spiraled way out of whack compared to most other sectors of the economy.

Way out of whack at least in many regions.

How many TVs would it take to buy one house in 1965 versus today? It's almost like a split has formed in the economy. Most prices stable, residential property and a few other things skyrocketing.

Sub prime defaults simply means a lot of the people who got sub prime mortgages can't afford this market. The creative financing is an attempt to make something seem affordable that really isn't.

Renting has it's merits, but it's not the fad.

There's just too many people trying to carve up too little land and the slices are too big, for the most part.

Smaller dwelling units and more compact communities would be a help. Also, of course, reduction in the growth rate of population. Maybe there's too many dollars floating around from years of low interest rates. Something has caused house values to go through the roof.

That's not really a banking problem, but it's a deeper philosophical issue that can be missed by folks using "compartmental thinking." It's easier to just define this as the "mortgage / banking / financial crisis." That's really just a symptom of the larger issue. The issue of carving out a sustainable place to live on this planet for the millions and millions of "more people" who are coming.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Black Friday

Part of colorful display in a downtown store. Neon of restaurant across street reflected in window.

Art and color are nice even though I don't need to do Christmas shopping.

Have wondered if the term "Black Friday" was a Freudian slip. One of the biggest shopping days before Christmas, but also implies negative as in the Black Tuesday of crashing stock market fame in 1929.

Today, the radio says it means wishing to be in the black for merchants, rather than in the red.

One side effect of rising property values is the fact that retailers must move more merchandise to pay the rent and pay their employees so they can pay the rent.

Property values drives consumerism.

These numbers aren't exact but it's the general idea.

In 1965, it would only take 84 TVs, at $300 apiece, to buy a $25,000 house.

In 2005 it would take an amazing 1166 TVs, at $300 apiece, to buy that same house priced at $350,000.

No wonder the products must keep moving or else the house payments and / or rents aren't paid.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The marketplace of ideas

Messy image of an idea light bulb I made with a mimeograph machine in the early 1980s.

Children were taught not to take candy from strangers. Then when they became adults and started working in the publishing field, they were told:

"Do not take unsolicited candy from strangers who don't have literary agents."

Now the Internet has opened floodgates. So much candy, so many strangers.

Now there are newspapers with open access forums attached to each story, like the Bellingham Herald on-line. It's amazing how many ideas are out there. So many articulate and good discussions in the various forums. Also, of course, a lot of fairly thoughtless stuff, but it is amazing how much is good.

Good, of course, can be in the eye of the beholder.

Now it seems like just about everyone has a voice. Forums, blogs, groups, tribes.

Some miss the "common ground culture" we had before, like when just about everyone watched the Beatles on Ed Sullivan.

Not everyone watched the Beatles. We have a big world and most of the time it has been silent. Also most people who are alive today were born after the Beatles.

Now that there are so many voices, one wonders if anyone is heard? Yes, even the concept of "heard" is questionable. Heard by who?

As long as you are heard by someone, I guess it's okay. I've heard people say, "if I can just make a difference to one other person, it's worth all the effort."

Audience fragmentation is on. Many voices, smaller audiences, but having just about everything defined by the big networks and publishers had it's drawbacks also.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

What should Congress do on Iraq?

Friday's topic of "The Conversation" on KUOW Radio.

Hardly anyone mentioned the November 2008 election. Overlooking the obvious. Election is actually coming pretty soon.

It doesn't look like there is much Congress can do about Iraq unless the Democrats get bigger majorities in Congress, especially in the Senate. Also of course, the White House.

Maybe Congress just can't do very much yet. Republicans are still in a pretty good position to call the shots, but it isn't long till the next election.

Time flies.

In Iraq, most Republicans still see "light at the end of the tunnel." Where have I heard that phrase before? Vietnam days? If that's the case, it looks like Republicans will have till the next election to see if that light is really there.

A lot of things can change in the next election. It's never perfect, but an election can make a difference. 2006 was kind of a watershed year, but not that much has been accomplished yet. The Democrats barely have the Senate and there is definitely no "veto proof" majority.

No the Democrats are not perfect either, but more Democrats can make a big difference.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

New crosswalks along East Holly Street in Bellingham

This one at Holly and Forest. More Yuppifying the city? At least this gives walking more appeal. Walking is a good thing to promote.

Fancier streetlights and stoplights replacing the old standards at Holly and Forest in Bellingham. It's okay, even though a lot of improvements are mostly appearance. A similar emphasis on appearance takes place in private enterprise. Think about store fronts and advertising. How about people who are into fashion? Eventually the old gray pole will be removed, I assume. Pragmatic conservatives might ask, "what's the matter with the old standard?"

Link added, summer 2012.

Crosswalks starting to wear out. Maybe rainbow crosswalks, like in Vancouver, BC at Denman and Davie Streets are better?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The wind was fun

It's fall again and time for exciting wind storms. Media made our recent wind sound big. It didn't seem that impressive. Just another typical fall storm.

Where I live, no power outages. There were plenty in other areas, mostly in the county. We practically never get outages in this densely populated urban area near downtown Bellingham, WA. Lots of redundant power lines and not too many pesky trees to fall on lines. Pruning helps. Life in the city.

The rain gutter was ripped off one building and wrapped around a power line. Still it didn't seem to hurt the line. It was an insulated "house current" line going into nearby buildings. The gutter made a loop over the line so as not to chafe off the insulation. Almost like it did this on purpose, but this was just how things landed. They closed off the ally as a precaution anyway.

I sometimes miss the power outages we had when I was a kid growing up, but it's sure nice to always have my computer.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Why CFLs might save more energy in summer than winter

Compact florescent lights.

An energy saving technology, but it might not be that big of a deal in the winter. Waste heat from old fashioned light bulbs can help heat the building.

The new "low waste heat" CFLs are great in the summer when you're not trying to heat the building, but winter? Maybe you want the waste heat from old style incandescent bulbs.

Savings you expect from changing light fixtures might be partially eaten up in higher heating costs.

I hear that a lot of big office buildings figure-in the waste heat from lighting, electronic equipment and even body heat as part of their energy equation.

In the summer, it's a different story. If one is trying to cool the space, a cool light bulb is better.

Brag, brag, brag.

Back in the early 1980s, I won the employee suggestion award for a chain of restaurants. Working as a custodian in the Bellingham location of Pizza Haven, I noticed people kept forgetting to turn off the light bulb in the walk-in cooler.

A hot light in that refrigerated space just means the refrigeration has to work harder to pump out more heat.

My suggestion was to put in a florescent bulb. Or, if not a different bulb, I suggested a spring operated timer on the light switch.

They didn't call them CFLs back then, but even in the early 80s there were a few types of compact florescent light.

Pizza Haven went with the timer on the switch instead of the florescent bulb. Back in the early 80s, the forerunners of CFLs were a lot more expensive.

Continued below.

Click to enlarge if you wish to see article. "A slice of life."

So think about how your lighting effects heating and cooling.

CFLs are great, but sometimes that doesn't matter. In winter, you may want waste heat.

I know some physicists would look at this even more in depth; like studying where the heat is being created in the room.

Light bulbs help to heat a room, but heat rises. If the light fixture is in your ceiling, it still might be better to use another heat source located closer to the floor.

On the other hand, it depends on whether you are heating a multistory building, or not.
Incandescent lightbulb to keep pipes from freezing in a crawlspace.

Economists will consider the fuel used to create heat. A natural gas furnace might be cheaper than figuring-in heat from wasteful electric lights.

Fitness centers often figure-in waste body heat from a room full of exercising folks as part of their energy equation.

One could call this the "waist reduction waste heat equation."

A friend of mine suggested that his gym install generators on all the stationary bikes.

I told him that they already figure-in the heat of friction and body heat when heating the room. A generator wouldn't do much good as all the expended energy is ending up as heat in the room anyway.

Now in the summer, that's a different story. If the gym is air conditioned, generators might help run air conditioning.

I doubt generators would make that much difference. Is it worth the cost of the generator?

Some stationary bikes are set up to turn a fan. Remember the Schwinn Aerodyne? Circulate the air with your cycling.

Better yet, cool yourself riding a real bike across town. I've noticed that moving through the air keeps me cool even on a hot day.

I've never driven a car and I've always lived in a small space which doesn't require much energy to heat. Compact lights, yes, but what about compact living?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Concepts cast in rigid stone, holdover of a bygone era?

If God had given Moses the Ten Commandments in today's age, "flexible Wikipedia" might have been used, rather than "rigid stone."

"Cast in stone" is a phrase often used. One can say, "these plans are cast in stone."

Rigidity versus flexibility.

For some reason a lot of people think that God always goes the rigid route. Isn't that just another assumption?

Why wouldn't God use something like Wikipedia? Something which can be altered and updated constantly? Even altered by it's users? Like in a democracy.

Is that too flexible?

Framers of the US Constitution figured out a profound compromise between stability and flexibility. It's hard to amend the constitution, but it isn't impossible. There's even a system of courts to handle interpretation. Quite an ingenious concept. It's not mob rule, but it's not a total lock box either.

Maybe God wasn't quite as clever as the framers of our constitution? Back in the time of Moses, they hadn't even invented paper yet. Stone is a cumbersome medium of communication.

Is God dumb, or is it just people's assumption that a god would always have to write in stone?

People's thinking must be some holdover from the "Stone Age."

Then there's the concept of a law written on someone's heart. That goes way back also. An ancient idea of flexibility?

What is the heart? Some fuzzy concept? We know about the squishy heart that pumps blood.

What about the brain? Is that squishy also? A friend of mine once said he worked for a bureaucratic organization where the heads of the board of directors were filled with solid concrete.

More stuff to think about. If your brain isn't solidified yet.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The tire patch that could

West of Walla Walla, WA., on US 12, I ran over a machine screw just wrong. It put a big hole in my back tire.

See picture of KUJ Radio towers at bottom of post. Flat was near the towers.

This was during my 2007 round state bike tour.

I put in a spare tube, but there was still the hole in my tire. Right through the kevlar.

So I put a patch on the inside of the tire (not the tube since it was a new tube). Patch inside tire covered the hole so tube wouldn't protrude through tire. This fix is sometimes referred to as a boot.

Figured it would get me as far as Tri Cities where I could get a new tire at some bike shop.

Well, the fix is still going!

Lasted till I got new tire around May 2008. Note added.

I'm back in Bellingham. This fix got me through Tri Cities, Yakima Valley, Chinook Pass, Seattle and back home. Has also gotten me all around Bellingham. It's now November 4. Bicycle is my primary transportation. All around Bellingham, up to Lake Padden and so forth.

Green Slime in the tube has helped also.

See my bike tour gallery.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Today, I see a headline "Dow drops more than 360 on fears that interest rate cuts will end."

For many years, it seems like the policy of the Federal Reserve has been to try and maintain property values while not creating overall inflation. Hanging on tight, almost like being afraid of change.

Well, what does one expect. It's the "establishment."

Of course, many people have also participated. Basically "gone along for the ride," so to speak, or the long commute that is.

Notice how house values skyrocket while other prices in the economy just go up modestly. We have been in an economy where certain sectors, like real estate and health care costs, have been allowed to skyrocket while the lid has been kept on inflation in other sectors.

Eventually, the economy becomes dysfunctional as things like housing and health care outstrip everything else.

It's like "differing economies from different planets trying to co-exist."

Can this situation be maintained?

Now it looks like the Fed has reached the end of this rope. They say they can't cut interest rates anymore leading to todays stock market tumble.

Well, if they did cut interest rates more, maybe the rest of the economy would inflate the way real estate prices have been doing for the past many years.

Imagine the bottom rung of the wage scale being $25 per hour. Imagine $25 dollar candy bars.

Xerox copies cost the same as they did in the 1970s. What's wrong with house prices?

So, it looks like home values will have to drop more, or else the rest of the economy will need to catch up.

The hyper inflation we have seen in real estate may need to spread to the rest of the economy in order to bring back some balance. Otherwise we have people working 3 jobs and / or commuting long distances just to maintain a roof over one's head. How wasteful can it get?

It shouldn't have to be that way. House values are just too high compared to the rest of the economy.

Remember the phrase, "drive till you qualify?" That's having to get up at 4 AM just to commute to work from a neighborhood you can afford. A costly way of doing business. Costly, especially when environmental costs are taken into account.

Now energy prices are starting to spiral up again. This too, adding to the worry on Wall Street.

An economy based on "drive till you qualify" and cheap energy is and economy built on a house of cards.

Built on a house of cards.

I almost typed "built on a house of cars."

There needs to be some new thinking in our economy.

New thinking can mean new opportunity.

We need cities that allow people to live closer to the job. To achieve this, we need denser neighborhoods and smaller residences.

We need an economy that is less based on narcissistic "your house value" issues and more based on "quality of life" issues.

How many friends do you have time for?

Count your number of friends, rather than your number of possessions.

Also realize that "quality of possessions" can continue to improve. Quality of possessions can continue to improve even if consumption is lowered.

Look at the computer industry. Smaller can often mean better.

Maybe that thinking can apply to housing as well. Smaller houses, more compact neighborhoods, less sprawl, less time in commuting, more time for friends.

Get my point?

On a related question, how many millionaires do you think live in your city?

Hundreds? Thousands? Millions?

Well, it depends on whether one counts the value of their primary residence, or not.

Many estimates for number of millionaires leave out the value of your house.

If "value of one's primary residence" is included, the number of millionaires skyrockets. It especially skyrockets in places like the San Francisco Bay Area where practically every middle class home is a million dollar proposition.

There are a lot of millionaires out there that would have never dreamed they would become millionaires back when they were in college.

A lot of 60s idealists. Millionaires, greedy landlords?

Who would have ever guessed.

In past decades when a lot of post war baby boomers were getting their start, no one would have dreamed that real estate inflation would make so many folks millionaires.

Millionaires on paper at least.

Back then, people were starting out as school teachers and so forth. Buying houses for around $50,000. Who would have ever thought that those $50,000 cracker boxes would now go for $950,000!

So, there are more millionaires than people realize, but that wealth isn't doing much good. Most people just don't feel like they're that wealthy. They're just "house rich and cash poor."

There is something out of balance in today's economy. Real estate has just gotten too expensive. The rest of the economy needs to catch up.

Someone just sent me an article from the New York Times. That article is about how Halloween in San Francisco's Castro Street District has met its demise. Canceled this year, due in part, to rising violence and changing demographics in the Castro Street neighborhood.

Spiraling property values chasing out the "gay character" of the Castro. Also growing tensions and the gap between the halves and have-nots.

Well, the silver lining is that more and more gay people are moving out into other locations across USA. Moving out across USA bringing some of that openness with them. Openness that was once more confined to the Castro is now moving out into Main Street America.

Innovation: that's what will bring us into the future.

Life is kind of a race between innovation and desperation.

Also a race between innovation and the needs of rapidly growing population.

Yes, population keeps growing. Zero population growth, a slogan popular in the 1960s has not been realized. Maybe we are a few steps closer to that goal, but not close enough.

Especially not close enough when global warming is taken into account.

Growing population is one of the things that keep housing prices too high.

Maybe that's the most convincing evidence that we have a population problem; "median single family home prices approaching seven figures."

It's "population pressure against increasing concern for the environment."

Back when I first moved to Bellingham, no one ever talked about the Lake Whatcom Watershed. Sudden Valley and all those developments were going in out there and not thinking anything of it.

That's where we get our drinking water from.

Now they're worried.

They're worried and saying STOP.

Housing has got to go someplace else. In filling, or what ever.

They can't build new subdivisions as cheaply as they did back in the 1960s, for instance.

Remember the 1960s?

Wasn't that when there was a song about "little boxes on the hillside?"

I remember that song. It went, "little boxes made of ticky-tacky?"

Who sang that?

I forgot.

Anyway, those were the expanding suburbs and that's what made it affordable.

Wasn't that song about Daily City in California?

Now we have to find new and more innovative ways to accommodate the growth that our childbearing population is still bringing to this planet.

Some rough transitions are ahead, but also this means new opportunities.

Innovation versus desperation. Get ready for more change and don't hang on to things like house value too tightly.