Thursday, January 31, 2008

More interesting for kids than the family car

A friend of mine says his kids prefer riding the bus to going places in their family car. In the car, my friend says he has to ignore his small children and watch the road. On the bus, they get more of his undivided attention. Also there are other passengers and fun things to see on the bus.

I've often thought that families are used as the excuse to drive, rather than live a "low carbon footprint, car free life." Then I met this friend who tells the story of his kids preferring the bus.

He also says his small family (mom, dad, two kids) lives in an apartment, rather than a detached house.

It can be done, even for people living "family lifestyles."

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

When someone owns a mobile home, but rents the space in the mobile home lot, are they considered home owners?

People keep talking about how great it is to be a homeowner. For instance President Bush speaks about the "ownership society." Yet increasingly, home ownership is not available to folks of modest means.

Mobile homes are usually a lot cheaper.

So, when one rents the space in a mobile home park, is that "renting" or "owning?"

Unless the place is cheap, getting into a home usually requires one to earn lots of money.

"Push those products through your store and out to the customers and landfills."

I keep saying, in 1965, the store manager could pay a mortgage by selling roughly 85 televisions. If TVs cost around $300 and houses cost around $25,000.

These days, TVs cost less, but houses cost a lot more. One must push 1,000 TVs, or comparable products and services, through the pipeline to pay for their keep, or at least buy their house.

If it was a mobile home, it would be less expensive, thus creating less of a need for pushing products through the pipeline in order to earn one's keep.

No wonder everyone seems to be scratching their heads trying to figure out how to keep the American consumer going, but what about the environment or people's peace of mind?

Some folks thought they could join the homeowner ranks by purchasing houses with sub prime mortgages. That's the illusion of "affordable home ownership," at least until regular pricing kicks in. Then it's foreclosure time.

Also, the average American moves every few years anyway.

Mobile homes make more sense. The home can travel with you. Travel to the new job, the city you are transfered to or the new marriage.

It is kind of ironic that we are such a mobile society, yet there is so much interest in what is called "home and hearth."

Renting needs more respect also. If we are trying to lower our carbon footprint, living in dense urban settings with a lot of rentals is a good way to go.

For homeowners, clustered condominiums are better than sprawl, but why are condominiums so expensive?

If we were to price housing in terms of "carbon footprint," apartments and condominiums should be cheapest. Unfortunately they are not.

This leaves mobile homes for lower income, lower "carbon footprint" living.

That is, if the mobile home is in a park rather than sitting on one or more acres out in the middle of nowhere.

Since mobiles are often not allowed in the city, people move out into the county and set up on some acre. Unfortunately, that's what many folks do to find affordable housing.

"Buy a remote acre, set up a mobile and then drive everywhere."

"Drive, drive, drive." Ever heard the phrase "drive till you qualify?"

That's not good.

That's sprawl, but a mobile home park on the bus line can be considered infilling, rather than sprawl. It can even promote car free living.

One shouldn't have to be wealthy to live in clustered environments.

If you own a mobile home and rent in the court, are you a coveted owner, like Bush wants to see more of, or a renter?

Are mobile homes the reasonable person's gateway into an ownership society?

Are they good for the environment when clustered?

Most people don't talk about them in this way. Even low income housing advocates seem to ignore them, for the most part.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Biking on narrow road, should one take the lane or stay to the right?

Ideally, I try to avoid narrow roads altogether. I go out of my way for good shoulders or bike trails. Sometimes I use narrower roads with light traffic.

If I must use narrow roads with heavier traffic, I usually stay as far to the right as I can. Sometimes I do take the lane if the traffic is quite a distance behind me. Taking the lane tends to cause the cars that are quite a ways back to tap their breaks and at least slow down to the speed limit. Then, when the cars are closer behind me, I go over to the side to let them by.

I watch the traffic behind me carefully. Take the lane when the traffic is farther back so it slows down, then go to the edge as the traffic is right behind and going past.

That's how I do it at least. Seems to work pretty well.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Be careful in Whatcom County, Bellingham also

Night traffic along Sunset, near Sunset Mall.

In the last couple of months there has been news of 2 bicyclists killed on Whatcom County roadways. One on Portal Way just north of Grandview and the other on Haxton Road in the Lummi Reservation.

More details in other media.

There are a lot of inattentive drivers everywhere. Also quite a few county roads have no shoulder. I avoid many roads and sometimes go a bit out of the way to travel on a safer route. Most of Haxton and north part of Portal are roads I avoid.

I can't really speculate why these accidents happened. Circumstances are different in each case. I just read about it in the media and hear folks talking at local bike club meetings.

My own travels have seemed safe, but I prefer being in town to most of the rural county. Also I light up my bike with lots of LED flashing lights at night.

I try to wear a bright vest, but have recently misplaced my vest. I should get a new one. Of course, I always wear my helmet.

Last week, I rode up into the Meridian area on my normal "not the most direct, but safer" route.

Still, West Bakerview was nearly bumper to bumper.

Ironically, "bumper to bumper" isn't too bad because the traffic is going slower. There is a shoulder also.

I'm on the shoulder going about as fast as the cars. They think they are creeping along at 10 mph, but that's fine for me.

Slow moving traffic: For the cars, urban living takes patience. No breaking the speed limit when it's bumper to bumper.

Coming back, the cars were stopped, not just creeping, they were stopped all the way.

I carefully continued on the shoulder. It seemed like they were backed up all the way from the airport to Meridian.

Then, down the road I saw the blue and red lights.

It wasn't The Fourth Of July. It was police cars.

Rather than head right into the "scene," I rode back to the stoplight at Fred Meyers and went another way home.

When I got home, I read an update in the on-line Herald. There had been a bank robbery and a car was pulled over near Bakerview overpass. It looked like the get-away car, but it wasn't. Still, all that commotion snarls traffic.

Welcome to Bellingham and Whatcom County.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Thinking about solutions to the income gap on Martin Luther King Day

Possibly the biggest discrimination issue we face today is not really race, but income separation. Even the neighborhoods that people live in tend to discriminate based on income and housing type.

There's single family residential, which really should be called "single family ONLY residential." Entry into some of these neighborhoods now requires qualifying for a million dollar mortgage.

Then there's the idea of mixed use and mixed income zoning. An innovation that I think could do more to knit this segregated country back together better than all the rallies, speeches and "remember Martin Luther King" specials on the media.

Yes it's good to remember Martin Luther King, but what are people doing now?

Maybe this isn't the greatest example, but it's enough to impress me. Last weekend there was a feature in Bellingham Herald about the Waldron Hotel, now converted to condominiums. Yes, they're pretty expensive, like in the $900,000 to million range, but the slide show that went along with that article intrigued me. In the background of many Waldron fixtures was the red facade of Chuckanut Square; a low income housing project. Yes, basically right across the street (or really across a parking lot) are the Waldron and Chuckanut Square.

It's a mixed income Neighborhood.

Chuckanut Square. lamps at south end of Waldron in foreground.

I biked down to Fairhaven to take my own picture of that interesting mix. Also stepped inside one of the Waldron's units that was having an open house. No, I couldn't afford to buy, but it was interesting to step inside just so I could say I'd been inside the Waldron.

Actually, I kind of got bored in there. Yes, it's a fancy unit, but I've never paid that much attention to furnishings, fancy bedspreads, wine bottles and counter tops.

It was interesting, for about 5 minutes.

I have friends who would have stayed much longer. They often discuss differing counter tops and sofa spreads while my eyes gloss over during our Wednesday Gay Men's Dinner Gathering. Different interests for different folks. Are they wealthy, or just wealthy wannabes? Or maybe they work in the field of interior decorating?

So it takes quite a bit of money to restore such an old building as the Waldron. Until now, it never really recovered from the panic of 1892. Top floor was never finished and sat empty all those years till this recent renovation.

It's nice to see that building with a new lease on life.

Most of the interesting features are external, in my opinion. Basically the inside was totally redone, to modern earthquake codes and so forth. The old facade remains with a new lease on life and right down the street there's lower income housing. Within easy walking distance is shopping and some cultural life.

I've been to several planning discussions where the virtues of mixed income and mixed use zoning are discussed. A way to reduce some of the growing separation between the Haves and the Have-Nots.

Earlier pictures during reconstruction of Waldron.

As they restore old Waldren Building in Bellingham's Fairhaven District, scenery is visible through the building. Old insides have been gutted as the facade is being preserved. Building was started, I think around 1890, but never totally recovered from economic panic of 1893. Top floor never finished.

Now, 2006, restoration is starting. it is being turned into condominiums and finally finished to the top.

Friday, January 18, 2008

They say "shop till you drop"

Cause it keeps the economy going and there's just a few paychecks between comfort and homelessness. For the sake of economy, people often neglect their health and their sanity. Remember, you're also only a few heartbeats away from dropping.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Waterfront Theme Park: "The Pulp Mill From Hell"

I had a vision from the future of Bellingham's Central Waterfront. It wasn't as easy to find buyers / tenets for the waterfront redevelopment as many had hoped (or feared), so the port district decided to make the old pulp mill buildings into a haunted house.

A haunted for house for fund raising purposes.

Let's make it a scary theme park. Call it, "The Pulp Mill From Hell."

People came to from all over. The same folks who went to horror movies.

There was the chipper blade to avoid, so as not to get ground up.

Exhibit B: A monster cloud of chlorine gas wiping out the city.

Then, remember that skeleton found in one of the boiler chimneys, back in the 1980s, I think? Still no one knows who that was, as far as I have read, and the ghost can still roam the park.

There was even a tiger roaming around, on loan from the San Francisco Zoo.

Plenty of lore and some fantasy for a fantastic theme park. Ever tried conveyor belt rides?

The theme park was "world class," "extreme sports," but then I woke up from that nightmare.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Living in a room without a million dollar view, but contemplating astronomical things

I can still see fantastic views from space, on the Internet.

Back when I was in high school, I got this brochure about Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecrafts. First to fly past Jupiter.

Pioneer 11 went on to Saturn.

First artificial objects to pass out of solar system. Launched in the early 1970s.

Internet is so much richer than relying on mailed brochures, or a daily newspaper that would often hide space news behind the sports page.

Since Pioneer, two Voyager spacecrafts have ventured out following similar routes. Launched in the mid 1970s.

I think Voyagers are going faster so they are already farther out than the Pioneers.

Also the Voyagers are still sending back signals. They are now exploring the area where solar wind transitions into the "interstellar environment."

Other stars are far out there indeed.

Traveling at Voyager's speed, it would take around 80,000 years to get to another star, but we can still learn about other stars from the rapidly improving telescopes here at Earth.

People might call the astronomer an "ultimate voyeur." Yes, observing and things are often too far away for interaction.

Voyager and voyeur are similar sounding words anyway.

Nothing wrong with that, there is a passive aspect to contemplating things beyond everyday life. Interaction does happen, here on Earth, among scientists and people asking cosmic questions. Often that's "interaction at its best."

Full moon with my low end digital camera. Image taken at Central Ferry Park on Snake River of Eastern Washington during my 2007 bicycle tour.

Bush wants us to go to Mars. People on Mars, but I don't think it's a good idea. Less scientific "bang for the buck."

I'm more interested in spending money for new telescopes, here on Earth. Also in Earth orbit. New telescopes that might actually see planets like Earth around other stars.

Imagine what wonderful conversations might take place in the sauna about such discoveries.

A nicer way of uniting the nation than 911. Actually uniting the world.

Mars doesn't seem that interesting, except for exploration by unmanned and inexpensive robots. Rovers like Spirit and Opportunity that are now serving nobly on the Red Planet.

Colonizing Mars may not be much help. It's kind of a "cheap version" of Earth. Only about 1/3rd the size of Earth.

By the time we would colonize, population growth on Earth will likely be more than 1/3 larger.

We will have already outgrown Mars before we get there.

Someday we'll set human foot on Mars, but I'm not holding my breath.

Back home, we are entering an era of even more exciting astronomical discoveries.

Here in the state of Washington, they are working on LIGO; a gravity wave detector.

LIGO is opening up yet another frontier of discovery. Picturing the universe in gravity waves.

Our LIGO detector is inside the Hanford Reservation; a place noted for old nuclear reactors and the "Hanford Cleanup."

Hanford can mean more than just "cleanup after nuclear activity." It's also a research facility for the future.

Clean energy, solar energy, gravity waves.

There's a lot of dry space out there and potential for exciting projects.

There's also a LIGO detector near Livingston, Louisiana. More to Louisiana than Hurricane Katrina. More to Hanford than "oh what a mess."

We can still look forward to a brighter future.

Last weekend, I saw a great video about LIGO. Called "Einstein's Messengers." See LIGO page and video should be one of the links.

With so many wonderful views on my computer screen, who needs a million dollar view out the window. I can ride my bicycle to such a view in a matter of minutes anyway.

Many people buy telescopes.

Wealthy people can buy bigger telescopes.

I'm not motivated to buy my own telescope since it's images would pale in comparison to photos from something like the Hubble Space Telescope.

Small scopes might be good for watching things and people, here on Earth. Some might call that voyeurism.

Nothing wrong with that.

Years ago, I once had a scope that I used in the park. When I came home, I set it on a table near my window just to put it down somewhere. Wasn't using it in my home, but neighbors across the street saw it sitting by the window. They put a sign in their window reading:

"Hello Neighbor."

Some of the best interactions in the park come from people standing around telescopes. Astronomy clubs have outdoor gatherings. The passersby who stop for a look get into more discussion.

The moon with camera flash turned on to shorten time exposure; automatic camera, or I forgot how to do it manually.

When I was in college, our astronomy class met on top of Haggard Hall for a sky viewing session.

A small telescope was all Western Washington University could afford in those days.

It's usually cloudy here anyway.

Still, we saw some things.

The rings of Saturn, but they are actually more interesting in textbook photos.

Back then, there were textbook images from the 200 inch reflector on Palomar Mountain.

Our little telescope on Haggard Hall was no match. Still, we were seeing with our own eyes, what ever that's worth.

Now we have the Cassini Spacecraft orbiting Saturn.

From the top of Haggard Hall, I suggested we look at things on land. Was wondering what Bellingham would look like in a bigger telescope than, at least I, could afford.

We wouldn't have to peer in windows, let's just look down some street.

My classmates adjusted the scope so it pointed at a Bellingham neighborhood. Then they said, "We have discovered a pulsar!"

It was the beacon at Bellingham Airport.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Lights out in part of Bellingham

Opportunity for a different perspective on some familiar locations.

Bellingham Herald Building in the dark. Like the newspaper being in the dark, but they did get their January 7 edition out.

Must be a headlight from parking lot across street shining in left window.

Auto parts store lit up by car headlights.

Bellingham Food Co-op at corner of Forest and Holly. Some traffic lights were still working as they were on a different circuit.

For a few blocks, that outage lasted several hours. Not Y2K.

Remember Y2K?

A line came down feeding some substation. I notice they have been working on a few substations recently. Must be doing some upgrades. This day's weather was normal.

My workplace was out of power, but I was able to do some cleaning with the LED headlights from my bicycle. They slide off the handlebar mounts and work like flashlights.

It was a memorable day. Day of the downtown power outage.

Poem from spam

Refinance your house with penis enlarger.
The Repo Man's a real man.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

One way religions give religion a bad name

One way religions don't want certain kinds of people to enter.

Back when I was in high school, they opened up a new bookstore in my home town called "One Way Books." It was from some kind of "Christ is the only way" outfit.

Not knowing any better, my dad thought it was named that to imply "you can't take back any merchandise." "One way, you buy it, no returns." No standing behind the product, so to speak.

Well, that's not quite the concept, but it's pretty good.

Before One Way Books, that little store was another store entirely. It was a hippy outfit called "The Bodywrapper." I'd see sexy long haired guys going in and out of there and the name Bodywrapper was kind of alluring.

Some of my early gay fantasies, just thinking even though I was never in there, except once.

The only time I was in there was with a friend who wanted to check out the waterbed in the basement. Just a fun room full of black lights and a waterbed and you didn't have to be buying anything to justify your existence there. That wasn't a sexual experience, however.

I remember lots of flickering lights and black lights. Oh, the early 1970s.

Bodywrapper eventually moved to a more sterile location in downtown Pullman. It was, basically, a clothing store. One Way moved in after Bodywrapper moved out.

In early 1970s, "One Way" became a slogan of the Jesus Freaks, as they were called. A new more conservative movement. Kind of an answer to the hippie movement. I remember thinking it was based in Spokane, WA. Not sure if that's true, but people said it was "something to put Spokane on the map like hippies put San Francisco on the map."

My art teacher referred to these people as "Freazes Cheeks."

Jesus Freaks often quarreled among themselves over interpretation and who's definition of "the way" was the real one. Now it seems like much of the world, especially the Middle East, is caught up in such quarreling.

I believe there is divine nature to this universe, but there are a lot of pathways in that direction.

Old building where the Bodywrapper and then One Way Books resided was later replaced with a Burger King. Now, even that's gone, I think from that location at least.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

One possible outcome from Tim Eyman's congestion relief proposal

Something my camera found on a concrete wall.

Graffiti art could be a cheap substitute for publicly funded art that's associated with Washington State transportation projects. Some of it isn't that bad, but I'm not a big fan of most graffiti.

The latest Eyman proposal isn't as bad as some of his previous "slash taxes and government" suggestions.

This one calls for creating a special fund devoted to congestion relief on Washington roadways.
Initiative now has a number. It's I-984. (I added this note Jan.9).

Something like $85 million per year. Now estimated at 130 million.

Money would come, in part, from cutting funding for public art and sculpture. Currently, a certain percentage of money spent on capital projects, such as transportation projects in the state, is devoted to art associated with said projects.

This is just small potatoes.

A bigger part of those millions would come from the sales tax that's currently collected when new and used vehicles are sold in the state. 10%
(now increased to 15%) of that sales tax revenue would be diverted into the congestion relief fund, rather than going into the state's general fund where most sales taxes currently go.

Tim Eyman's latest initiative was filed yesterday.

$85 (even 130 million) is hardly a drop in the bucket for relief of traffic congestion. I keep saying that land has gotten so expensive, it's practically impossible for the state to build it's way out of congestion. The land that's under new highway lanes would be a budget buster.

I realize that his proposal is mostly about doing things like timing traffic lights better. Also things like pre positioning tow trucks for faster clearing of blocking accidents.

Small steps can sometimes make a big difference. It's not a totally bad idea.

Still, I don't think there's much we can do to relieve congestion short of getting rid of automobiles as the main form of transportation.

Also, for some reason, the framers of our state's constitution implied that education is the paramount duty of state government.

I know, I sometimes feel there's a lot of waste in education as well.

Education: the biggest priority of money in the general fund.

Diverting even just 15% of sales tax revenue on the sale of vehicles in our state would be like stealing food from the lion's cat dish.

When the lion's share of state funding goes to schools and the constitution roars in it's favor, watch out.

Yes, watch out.

Education? What good is it doing us?

Here might be another way to spell congestion relief in Washington State.

Not spelling it R-O-L-A-I-D-S, as the old Rolaids commercials would have it.

We can put the lion called "education" to work for us. Why can't we encourage our schools to teach alternative transportation?

Remember, "Bike To Work Day" is actually called "Bike To Work AND SCHOOL Day." The schools have already gotten involved to some extent.

There are a lot of things we can do to "learn better ways of getting around" in our state. We can do these things regardless of whether this Eyman proposal succeeds or not.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Can charcoal save the world? I'm a bit skeptical

Someone I know keeps talking about the virtues of charcoal for sequestering carbon and reducing global warming.

Sequester is kind of an old word that's coming back into use in global warming discussion. Here, I think it means holding the carbon someplace, like in the ground. Holding it rather than releasing it in the form of carbon dioxide gas into the atmosphere, for instance.

Sounds good, but I'm still a bit skeptical, or at least I have some questions that need answering.

When I hear people talk about charcoal, they're always speaking of it's virtues in the garden. Benefits like "enrichment of soil," "home for friendly microbes," "water filtration" and so forth.

All good things for agriculture, but how does charcoal prevent industrialized civilization from spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere for our energy needs?

Silence, so far.

Or maybe I'm just not listening at the right time.

Among a lot of environmentalists, there does seem to be a nostalgia for more agrarian times. For times when we lived on farms, had gardens. Thus, one would think of the gardening benefits of charcoal.

Well, there are more than 6 billion overpopulated people in the world. Many of us are living in cities; often above the 5th floor.

Sure, some people have charcoal filters on their water faucets, especially when they don't trust city water.

Is it still charcoal they use in those filters? I've never bought one.

With all the cars, home heating, other energy guzzling habits of both urban and rural dwellers, I'm still wondering how we get energy?

Making charcoal?

For those who might not know, charcoal is basically made by cooking things like wood. Cooking it in a low oxygen environment so it doesn't burn, but transforms into a denser fuel.

Charcoal for the backyard barbecue, for instance.

This cooking can be done in a sealed kiln, or something.

Still, creating charcoal doesn't really create energy, as far as I know.

One needs combustion for energy and there isn't combustion in that low oxygen cooker, as far as I know.

The heat for cooking the wood needs to come from another source. An outside heat source to heat the kiln. Electricity, fire, whatever.

We're back to needing energy and much of our energy comes from burning, thus releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Well, maybe there is a way to get some energy. A special kind of slow cooking of organic matter in the kiln.

My friend has mentioned something called "slow pyrolysis." He mentioned it just briefly since we're seldom in the space for slow conversation.

Slow pyrolysis. A new concept for me.

I read that there is some gas that can be cooked off and then burned to heat the kiln.

This gas heats the kiln and has some left over energy. It's a gas like natural gas.

Still releases some carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, from it's combustion. It also releases carbon monoxide.

I guess, since the gas is a hydrocarbon, it could also release water vapor from the hydrogen component of the molecule? This process would releases less carbon than just plain burning of the organic material.

Have I lost you yet?

I'm afraid I might have lost myself.

I never took a chemistry class, but I do have somewhat of a scientific mind.

I'm just thinking out loud.

Maybe there is some promise here, in the more efficient burning of bio-fuels.

Charcoal is created as a byproduct and yes it can be good in the garden. Good for folks that have access to a garden and the rest of us who eat.

Maybe this isn't the magic bullet to save our world, but it's worth learning more about.

Let us know where the energy comes from, since most of us live in the city.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Carbon dioxide being dumped into atmosphere is increasing

We need things like this solar cooker described clear back in 1956.

I read here that the yearly amount of carbon dioxide being dumped into the atmosphere has gone up since 2000.

It's still obvious to me that population growth is a big problem.

One reason for this increase in greenhouse gas emission seems to be more burning of charcoal (I guess for cooking and heating) in parts of Asia and Africa. As oil prices rise, multitudes of folks revert to using charcoal which must be cheaper than oil. It's also dirtier than oil putting more carbon into the atmosphere for the amount of energy produced.

Efforts at energy conservation have stalled in industrialized nations as well. Too many automobiles, for instance. Conservation efforts like home insulation and more efficient engines have squeezed out some savings, but these efforts only go so far.

More people keep needing cars, houses, whatever.

Come on folks.

More people all the time and do we really need cars?

Clear back in 1956 they were talking about solar cookers in India. Parabolic reflectors. Concentrate the sun's heat, rather than burning fuel.

Possibly my favorite film was made clear back in 1956.

Our Mr. Sun.

It showcased a few solar cookers.

That Frank Capra documentary keeps telling it's truth.

Also talked about the problem of population growth; clear back then.

We were talking about solar houses, why haven't we built more?

Even solar cities. Visionaries told of cities glowing in the dark with phosphorescence.

The film is interesting to watch. Lots of tidbits and makes one wonder what opportunities have been lost.

Sure, there are some great things like the Internet that seem visionary and futuristic.

Still, there seems to be a fear of the future.

Population growth is going to force us into embracing visionary change, or else it's turning the whole Earth into a solar cooker.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Check Ashing?

Must be some kind of new service. Ashing your checks.

Oh, the light's burned out.