Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Christian Immigration Dilemma (some other religions too)


"Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue the immigration office."

One liner for a cartoon I thought of, but I'm not very good at drawing pictures.

People seem to ignore population growth as an issue behind so many topics, such as immigration. More could be done to slow population growth, but after people are born, it's best to just accommodate us (including my generation of native born "post war baby boomers"). They say us baby boomers will need immigration to pay our Social Security. America has always been a nation of immigrants, it's just that world population keeps growing. One baby boom begets another.

Years ago, water used to flow from the US to Mexico, in the form of the Colorado River. Now I hear it's all spoken for. All, but merely a trickle is spoken for before reaching the Gulf of California in Mexico.

Oil is next. Oil may not be able to flow north from Mexico to USA for long. I read that growth on the Mexican side of the border will tap that entire supply for Mexico's domestic economy.

Our world is reaching Peak Oil. It's having to find (hopefully) better alternatives. All these things flow together for me. Alternative lifestyles, alternative transportation. We're getting more crowded so we must innovate and also curb our procreation.

A contractor calls KUOW's Conversation show on the topic of immigration. Mentions people building houses with views and then complaining when more houses are built that block, or alter part of the view. Says, everyone wants to be, "the last one in."

Monday, June 25, 2007

216 Grand Avenue Art and Children's Museum planned


Reflection from my camera lens creates some art as I pressed it against the window of 216 Grand. Trying to show a "bland and unoccupied" office inside.

Plans are to tear the current building down and put an arts center in its place.

An Art and Children's Museum.

It will be partially funded by "Bellingham Public Facilities District." Also there is money from private and other sources.

A curving glass wall will reach to the sky and shimmer with reflection. This is part of the new plans for 216 Grand that have recently been revealed.

Not quite Centre Pompidou in Paris, France, but for Bellingham, WA. a step loftier than the building that is now occupying this space.

Our often called "City of Subdued Excitement" is (as usual) ambivalent about an arts center.

"Is this really what the taxpayers should be funding?" reads a chorus of comments.

Others look forward to something beyond the "drabness of day to day survival."


Memories of a different kind abound from the present building at 216 Grand

For many years, it was the "Washington State Employment Security Office."

Since those days, that office has changed names and moved to smaller quarters. Much of it's work is now done with the magic of Internet technology. Back in the old days, it was "bulletin boards."

Hoards of people could be seen pondering job notices pinned to the board. Folks looked depressed. Many would walk away muttering, "nothing, nothing."

There was a recession in the early 1980s and that board was nearly blank. Most of the time, it was a flow of "part time nursing home assistant," "fish cannery work" or "taxi driver."

Once, there was a posting for "executive secretary to Western Washington University's President." The list of prerequisites was so long, it could have been from another planet as far as folks standing in line were concerned.

One could hear people muttering, "must be smiling and energetic" with disgust.

Then there was the forms to fill out. The dispatching of unemployment checks, the debates between clients and office workers over "fine print of eligibility." Everyone's "life story" trying to be compressed onto forms in the file cabinet.

"Can you write all this in that tiny space provided?"

That was the employment office.


There were some artists inhabiting that space, but I doubt very many would advocate preserving the present building for it's "artistic character."

Our jury is still out on how much the new building will serve and inspire people. I don't have a strong "yes," or "no" opinion here.

It will be "public space" which is better than an economy that just cranks out a bunch of showboat homes. When effort goes to space that everyone can benefit from, I'm less critical.

On the other hand, construction of a building doesn't really create employment for artists. It creates jobs for engineers and contractors. Meanwhile a lot of unknown artists still work as waiters and taxi drivers. Maybe there's nothing wrong with that. Experiencing life as a waiter could be "source material" for good art.

When the center gets built, I hope it doesn't become too snooty. I hope that a wide range of expression can use the pallet.

There is a creativity movement at the grass roots called Mail Art. It really flourished "big time" in "pre Internet" days of the 1980s. Much of that art phenomenon was outside of established galleries. Artists went around the "system" sending creativity to one another in the mails.

In Mail Art there is a phrase which goes,

"Mail Art is not fine arts, it's the artists who are fine."

Like the job listings that used to be confined to cards on the bulletin board, much of mail art is now just "the norm" of the Internet. One could ask, "has the Internet killed Mail Art?" Or "Has Mail Art grown and turned into the Internet?"

Back in old times, circa 1980s, it was said that most job listings didn't go through Washington State Employment Security. They usually went around that system as well.



Working on old museum building that was once a fancy city hall. Plans are to continue preserving it for historic displays. They say the 1892 building gets passed up by travelling exhibits who fear things like uncontrolled humidity; thus leading to a "wish list" for more museum space in Bellingham.

Below posted June 13 2009.

With curving glass wall. Should be open some time in September, so I see on a sign at the old children's museum location. It's quite a change from what was there before.

Friday, June 22, 2007

McMansion McMania


In Seattle, they are considering limiting house height and trying to control McMansion McMania where people are buying a lot, then tearing down the modest sized house and filling the lot with a gargantuan house.

McMansions tend to appear in low density residential areas. Around Bellingham, they are drawn to county areas that are zoned for one and five acre lots like magnets. These lots are basically too small to be real farms yet too large to be affordable for the modest. They are prime candidates for mansion mania.

For many reasons one to five acre plots are a bad idea.

Up here, we don't yet seem to have the phenomena of tearing down modest size homes for the big ones. There's still some elbow room where the new monsters can go on new lots.

In Seattle, where population is larger and there is less space, monster homes squeeze into smaller city lots tearing out the existing house. They may as well be apartment buildings as they can be similar in size.

People are sometimes annoyed by such blatant wealth, plus the natural resources consumed in building for one household. I hear that restrictions are being considered.

Rather than restrictions, a libertarian solution could be bumping up the zoning density where McMansions proliferate. They might as well be apartments and business buildings anyway. Why not? In some of Bellingham's older neighborhoods, big mansions are now being used for apartments and rooming houses. Many old mansions have evolved into student housing near the university.

I'm not necessarily a libertarian, but that way of thinking is a good tool; sort of like asking, "what would Jesus drive, if in fact Jesus would drive."

Allowing apartments and mixed use zoning in the McMansion areas would end a form of corporate welfare that protects these giant homes with single family zones. It would create more neighborhoods of mixed use and "income diversity."

Some argue that increased density adds traffic, but it can also spur better bus service and more pedestrian destinations.


* Picture I happened to have in my collection of some fairly large houses in a new part of Pullman, WA.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

My Own Computer Journey From Grade School To Youtube

Emphasis on the early years.

1960s grade school
Teacher hands out test to be taken with a #2 pencil. The "Step Test." It's sent to California and graded in a new way; by computer!

Washington State University is in my home town of Pullman, WA. It has a science fair. On display, an out of date (even at that time) computer with vacuum tubes. Took up one entire classroom.

"My Weekly Reader," a children's magazine, had article on something even smaller than the transistor. Thousands of these tiny transistors could fit on a chip.


Late 1960s JR. high
Students in Mr. Nick's social studies class pick stocks to follow for an assignment. Those who have "IBM stock" get the most points at end of semester. Luckily, it didn't effect the grade.

Early 1970s high school


Below, schematic diagram of IF stage in Astronaut 8 radio with integrated circuit.

My new radio features an integrated circuit. Part of the circuitry that is called the "IF stage" is mostly on one chip. "Astronaut 8" multi-band radio from Realistic.

An electronic calculator at my father's lab replaces mechanical adding machine. Keypad and numeric display is connected to a central processor that serves 4 offices and is located downstairs.


Not me, but someone else standing by teletype machine pictured in high school annual.

Teletype terminal connects high school to Washington State University computer. It used the phone line. A bunch of whiz kids in mathematics hang out around it. Pictured in annual. I didn't spend time there as I figured I wasn't very good at math.


Mid 1970s college
At Western Washington University, Bellingham, I buy an electronic calculator for $89. Texas Instrument SR 10.

Signed up for computer science because it was required for my major, but figured I might have to drop out. I wasn't good at math, but it was easier than I thought. Surprised myself and got an A.

There was a room full of "key punch" machines where we typed our programs into stacks of cards. These were handed to the control desk at the computer center. Printout could be picked up next day; like getting film back from the developer.

Western Washington University installs terminals for instant "turn around" from computer. One could sign up for an "account" on the system. Each account access some disk space and 8K of memory in the computer. Somewhere around 32 terminals shared the mini computer.

I wrote programs in a computer language called "Basic."

My senior project tabulated a survey from Bellingham city buses. It created a "rank order" table. Ranked bus stops by number of "passenger boardings" at each stop that were counted in the survey.

Back in my home town of Pullman, I tour Washington State University computer center. That multi million dollar facility features massive computer with 2.5 megabytes of RAM! Wow! 2.5 megabytes. (Laugh).

Phone lines connect WSU computer with users in various parts of the state to make most use of the system. Not only WSU uses it, but also Everett City government, for some reason, and a few other agencies around the state. "Must make best use of such a large system."

On a tour, I learn that WSU students have to get funding approved, or be in a computer science class, before they can use WSU system. No "open access terminals" like the smaller computers at WWU allowed. I was horrified.

Tour guide says WSU doesn't believe in "funny money." Students must apply for real money; like funding from their departments, which can be transfered over to computer center. Guide explains that, "students usually don't have problems getting the money approved."

I ask, what if one just wants to learn by "playing" on the computer? WWU has smaller system, but access is much easier. A better system for learning by play.

Back in Bellingham, graduation from WWU means loosing access to computers. At least loosing access until the much talked about "age of home computers," arrives.

The bank I use gets it's first ATM machine.


Early 1980s working as a custodian in Bellingham
I buy an Ohio Scientific "home computer" with 8K memory. Used an old B&W TV for monitor. Cassette tape recorder served as long term memory. $500.

Next year, I bought the printer for another $500. An Epson MX 80 dot matrix printer.

Bellingham Computer Users Group (BUG) meets at Georgia Pacific offices next to the Pulp Mill.

OSI computer and Epson printer. Not that great a picture and I gave items away in the 1990s. Click image to enlarge.


Hear sound of data from OSI computer. See video with sound from OSI. Also see Texas Instruments calculator at work. About 1 minute.



Late 1980s the Commodore 64
A coworker gets an "IBM compatible" with modem. He is sharing messages with "bulletin board services" over phone lines. Bellingham's Micro Madness BBS is going. Coworker dials across country to several BBS services including one in Boca Raton Florida.

I buy a Commodore 64. Coworker thinks it's a mistake and suggests "take it back, get an IBM instead." I keep Commodore and get a modem for it.

Try to send message to coworker, but something is goofy with the modem. He can see my type, but I can't see his.

Someone from Commodore Users Group visits and we try cleaning crud off the phone connection at the old house I'm living in. See if that helps the modem. It doesn't make any difference.

Commodore helps me organize my scrapbook of writings and letters to the editor by topic. Beginnings of the menus that are now on my site.

Brothers and sisters are sending emails to one another for free. Clear across USA. They are using a mystical system called "Internet" which connects up universities and various institutions. Messages are sent from their university or city library workplaces.


1992 getting an IBM Compatible
New custodial job, new coworker.

Coworker takes me shopping to buy an IBM compatible. Also a 2400 baud modem.

I dial my first BBS service. It's a gay oriented message board located in Seattle. Called "28 Barbary Lane." Long distance call.

Coworker, a fellow custodian, explains the concept of "hypertext" to me.

Buy my first optical scanner. It's B&W.

I put one of the stories from my bicycle trips into "electronic book" form. To be shared on BBS services and eventually the Internet.

WWU Alumni Association offers access to the Internet. I join and dial up a computer called "Henson."

View email in a program called "Pine."

My coworker has no ties to university. He is using America On-line. We await the much talked about "gateway" when AOL users get to exchange emails with other Internet users, Compuserve users and so forth.


1994 almost to the web
I try a function called "Telnet." This uses WWU computer to access other systems on the net, in "real time." I try Cornell University in upstate New York. Amazed at how fast it answers. I use Telnet to access several sites including NASA Spacelink.

Fellow at a local potluck explains the World Wide Web and Mozilla to me.

Waiter at Tokyo House Restaurant explains how I can trick Western's computer into thinking I have a "slip account" thus being able to look at the world wide web. My first browser is Netscape.


1995 start of my web page
WWU announces that Alumni will no longer be served by it's over burdened computers. Memo states there are several private companies providing Internet access now days. This isn't related to alumni accessing the slip account. It's just a sign of the times. One of the private companies is called "Pacific Rim Network," in Bellingham.

Spring 1995, I set up my own web page at Pacific Rim Network. All fits inside 2 megabytes. My web address: http://www.pacificrim.net/~robert/ (no longer active).

Start sending my "gay potluck newsletters" via email. It was a xeroxed and "snail mail" publication since about 1992. Circulation, around 100.

Some friend of mine tries to access weather maps on-line, but computer says, "missing packet driver." We're baffled and jokingly look around Lake Padden Park for a missing packet driver.


1999 my own domain name
Pacific Rim is purchased by Verio and the domain is discontinued. I decide to register my own domain name www.theslowlane.com

After 2000 more things
2002. Gay potluck newsletter becomes a Yahoo Group. I also start an account at Blogger, but don't do much with it yet.

2004. Start posting prolifically to my blog.

2007. Upload my first Youtube videos. Hopefully, I'll get better at video.

2008, I'm on Facebook.
This part added after 2008.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Palm Trees Above Arctic Circle

Yes, the Earth has seen other periods of global warming. Still, we should worry about this "human effected" period of global warming. We weren't there to worry about the other periods.

The main reason why we should worry about this one is the fact that we are here to be affected by it.

The Earth survived it's other periods of global warming, but we weren't there to worry about it.

Back then there were no ski resorts lacking snow. There was no Columbia River hydroelectric plants worrying about lack of water from a low snow pack. There was no stock market to drop on talk of crop failures, property damage and coastal flooding.

We weren't there to worry.

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it make a sound?

We are here now, with our fragile economic needs. That's why we should worry.

In the past, there were significant periods of global warming that the Earth survived. The Earth is always changing, but our economy rides Earth like she's a good horse. When Earth starts changing, she's like a bucking bronco. We don't want to slap her because we don't want her bucking while we're riding. We're slapping her with our carbon emissions.

We are riding during the short period of evolution that we are here.

Millions of years ago, Earth saw huge lava flows pour out onto the surface. Many of these flows released carbon dioxide into the atmosphere leading to significant global warming. I recently heard a radio interview with some geologist about this topic. They described palm trees growing above the arctic circle.

Here in the Bellingham area, there are fossils of palm leaf in Chuckanut sandstone. Evidence of warmer eras in the past.

Much of the eastern part of this state is covered with lava flows. Flows that created the Columbia Plateau, often called the Columbia Basalt. Many of these flows crept out during the so called Miocene Era, millions of years ago.


Layers of basalt rock are visible in this coulee near Grand Coulee Dam and the Banks Reservoir. Seen on my 2005 bike tour.

We weren't around to worry the global warming back then and the Earth survived just fine. Maybe plants and animals suffered, but I am not hearing their cries.

The main reason why we need to worry about climate change now, is the fact that we are here. Our stock market doesn't want to take too big of a hit. Our economy is a fragile rider, so we hope that Earth remains a steady horse, at least for this moment in geological history.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Sailboat from Boulevard Park


May be a cliche image, but my zoom lens got it good. Biking through the park on my way to somewhere.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Standard of living for average American. Rising? Falling? Unchanged?

Can progress be measured in technology, rather than consumption?

A feeling that one is making progress seems to be very important to people.

Future generations having it better than past generations. Our own lives getting better and better. Going somewhere. Progressing toward a goal.

Since childhood, the virtue of PROGRESS has been instilled in me.

A lot is written about the American standard of living. Is it rising, falling or remaining the same? Of course this depends on who you are, but more interestingly, it depends on what you define as "standard of living."

How does one measure the standard of living?

That is a very important question.

Does more consumption always mean a higher standard of living?

If that's the case, American living standards are likely to fall as more people consuming more resources can't be sustained indefinitely on this planet.

On the other hand, maybe more consumption is not necessary for a higher standard of living.

Here is one thing that we do keep getting more and more of all the time.

Technology.

Future generations have more technology than past generations. Our lives keep getting more sophisticated, or some might say more complicated with each new advance in computers, products, concepts.

Maybe we should get our needed sense of progress from the inevitable progress in technology that we see around us.

I was recently talking to a friend, who lives in Ecuador. That's in South America. We were talking for free using Skype. It seemed like he was next door.

Amazing.

20 years ago, such conversations would have been unimaginable. Today, it's taken for granted with "voice over Internet" technology.

That conversation revolved around how expensive housing is getting in USA. How the average American wage has certainly not kept up with spiraling real estate values. Yes, I remember when you could work close to minimum wage and still be able to afford an apartment in an urban area. I knew someone who sold a house in Seattle for $18,000 back in the mid 1970s. Looking up that same house on Zillow.com shows the price well over half a million. Wages haven't kept pace with that, for most people.

This friend of mine has a dual citizenship and moved back to Ecuador in part due to the high cost of housing in USA. Meanwhile, in Ecuador his career has taken off in a positive direction. Positive in terms of doing interesting work at least, not necessarily making a fortune.

What brings happiness and fulfillment? Not necessarily more consumption.

We concluded our conversation saying that future generations may be homeless, but able to talk around the world for free.


The average American home takes a lot of land and resources. Yard space, blacktop to get to and fro by car, heating bills, water, sewage. You name it.
As the Earth gets more populated, our housing choices will need to get smaller. If not becoming homeless, future generations will most likely live in environments of higher density. Apartments, rooms, townhouses, high rises, condominiums.

At the same time, does that necessarily constitute a lower standard of living?

It all depends on how one defines standard of living. For instance, living in a small space and being with-in walking distance of good culture might be as important as owning a huge yard, but having to drive everywhere.

Of course the close-in places tend to be expensive, these days, but with future planning, there can be a bigger supply of "close-in" places.

There's only so much space around the hearts of our largest cities. There's only one San Francisco, but as more of our smaller cities get large, we have more cities.

Population growth is sure putting a crimp on our consumption of land and resources, but as we get smarter, the standard of living doesn't have to fall; not for a while at least.

I am assuming we're getting smarter of course.

Progress in technology and better planning can more than compensate for loss of consumption.

Future generations can have a better life, with more culture, better planning, more "pedestrian oriented neighborhoods," and most predictably, lots of new technology.

Yes, lots of new technology, but consuming less space, energy and natural resources.

I often say it's like going from the vacuum tube to the transistor to the microchip.

Of course some would argue that the microchip isn't always better. I hear that some rock bands still prefer vacuum tubes in their amplifiers.

Rock and Roll: was "the new generation," now it can be nostalgia.

Will "high tech / low consumption" be a high standard of living?

I see you cringing at how far removed our lives are becoming from nature. You say, "technology, but no more yard space?"

Well, I guess we're getting too crowded to own our own yard space. We can still preserve great areas and agricultural lands, but we can't all buy up the last remaining rural areas as private non-farming properties.

We just have to consume less and count our progress in terms of a great society and all that new technology.

You are shaking your head in disbelief.

So, maybe future generations will have to shrink themselves down to a size that allows for living in a cell phone.