Sunday, March 30, 2008

Early spring snow

An early spring slushy snow came to Bellingham. Snow is rare near the bay, but cool weather often persists late into season. Fourth of Julys with doors shut and furnaces running can happen, but late July through Sept can get pretty dry.

Refreshing chill in air felt during bike ride after heated sauna at YMCA with warm conversation. Bike ride might be too chilly otherwise, unless I get a new jacket.

A pink and white world. Japanese Cherry in the snow.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Lights out Earth Hour

On the radio I heard, "don't try this if you're driving." I guess you need your headlights. Wait a minute, who's driving if they are that concerned with the Earth?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Part of recently refurbished Lummi totem pole

With part of Whatcom County Court House in the background. Circles work together.

We're having an unusually cool (early) spring. It's too early to say all of spring will be unusual. I remember some other years with cooler than normal end of March weather. Snow mixed with rain. When I was a kid, my brother called this kind of weather "Snain."

A friend of mine from California is questioning global warming.

Is it global cooling?

There is always a lot of random fluctuation in weather from year to year. The weather is often weired because it's either warmer than normal or cooler than normal. Sometimes it hits "normal" right on the head.

Normal is just the average over many years. In global warming, the "normal" gets slightly warmer as years go by.

Sometimes cool weather feels cooler if one has been used to warmer than normal weather for a while. Also some of our recent migrants from California are thinking the weather is cool. Yes, it's probably cool compared to Sacramento.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Should Nuclear Power Enable Our Lifestyles?

Some folks see nuclear power as a great solution to the global warming / fossil fuel problem. It can be viewed as a convenient source of energy that doesn't emit CO2 gas into the atmosphere and also doesn't rely on declining fossil fuel resources.
Continued below.

Power lines near Enterprise, Oregon. Seen on my 2001 bike tour.

I often find my radio tuning to Bill Wattenburg (actually I'm tuning it myself). He's a weekend talk show host on KGO in San Francisco who often speaks the virtues of nuclear power in getting us out of our fossil fuel jam.
* KGO can be heard all up and down the west coast at night via ionospheric AM radio skip It's also on the web.

Sure, there's solar energy, wind power and some other "more idealistic" sources, but it seems like quite a few people feel that these things are not convenient enough to provide the vast amount of energy needed in our civilization; at least in the near future. Nuclear is already providing much of the electricity used in France, for instance.

I'm not against nuclear and I think it's likely to be part of the solution. On the other hand, here is a question I have been pondering.

"Is it better to fly across America in a jet plane, or ride your bicycle across America?"

Think about it for a bit. Fly across, or bicycle across?

Basically, there really isn't an absolute answer to this question.

It's better to fly across, if one is in a hurry and needs to get to the east coast with-in a few days to attend a wedding for instance.

On the other hand, what if someone wants to sample home cooking at various cafes all across Montana and North Dakota? Then the bicycle might be better. What if one is wishing to be in shape and fight the propensity toward obesity? What if one wants to take lots of pictures? What if one wants to have a good excuse to take several months break from the job routine?

I can think of a lot of reasons to favor bicycling. Still, I'll admit that the bicycle is a big part of my lifestyle. It wouldn't be the answer for everyone, nor probably most of the commerce that runs this society.

Still, much of this society seems like a rat race to me and it can be said that faster isn't necessarily always better.

It's time to have an honest dialog about many of the cultural assumptions we make. Is more consumption always better?

I know many folks who will say, "taking the train is better than flying, driving or bicycling."

Yes, I took the train home after bicycling across USA. Met many interesting people. Train is great for social life.

Continued below.

Spring budding along Interurban trail south of Bellingham.

The nuclear power debate is a good context to bring up these questions about our culture of speed and consumption because there are a lot of people who have trouble stomaching the idea of nuclear power.

There seems to be no magic answer where we can continue the consumptive culture with no lifestyle change, but at the same time, refuse to use technological means, such as nuclear energy, to power that culture.

Remember, solar is "technology also." I'm thinking about some friends who say there can't be a "technology fix."

So, how about a lifestyle fix? Are these friends addicted to their cars?

There's an old phrase that goes, "if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."

Now you might be asking, "how can nuclear power run an airplane?"

There are several answers to that question as well. One being that nuclear could produce a lot of our electricity, rather than coal; thus freeing up more fossil fuel capacity (both in the atmosphere and the ground) to keep the planes running for a while at least. Keep things going for the next few decades.

Also, electricity can power vehicles directly (maybe not aircraft now days at least).

Hydrogen fuel can be made from an abundant source of power, such as nuclear. This can be a non carbon fuel for vehicles and aircraft.

Sure, I think wind, solar and other idealistic "green" technologies can offer more promise than some of the advocates of nuclear might be willing to admit; especially in the somewhat more distant future. On the other hand, it seems like nuclear will be part of the mix. A dialog about lifestyles and culture needs to be part of the mix as well.

Do we really need to live in such a fast paced, consumptive society? I hate to be dogmatic and say, "bicycling is better," but I think bicycling can play a bigger part of the mix. Also downsizing. Smaller houses, more compact neighborhoods, even shorter workweeks, less consumption, more quality social life and family time.

Many years ago, I heard another radio personality, Paul Harvey, speak disparaging about a possible future of "bearded bicyclists" versus the promise of some energy company.

I'm not too much of an alarmist against energy production, but show me where the bearded bicyclists are. I think they're sexy.

Worse fates can befall our society. I like slender cyclists, bearded or not.

Speaking of lifestyles and sexuality, let's not forget, reducing population growth. That's a big part of the equation that so often gets overlooked.

So many issues are interconnected, it's impossible for me to use compartmental thinking.

Solutions can come from quite a few different directions such as technology, but also cultural change.

Speaking of technology, radio is one of the more efficient things out there. KGO's signal, that brings me Bill Wattenburg's discussion of nuclear power, is 50,000 watts. At night (thanks to ionospheric skip) 50,000 watts can blanket the entire west coast of this nation. When I do the math and convert this to horsepower, 50,000 watts equals less horsepower than a lot of your average automobile engines.

Continued below.

Radio is an old example of very efficient technology.

In this age of changing technologies, how much energy does day to day commerce require?

Think about it for a while.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Washington Mutual's ad in window. Whoo hoo

Boo hoo
Comment added in 2009 after bank failed.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Fifth anniversary of Iraq War

Actually it's "Iraq War Phase 2." Phase 1 started more like 17 years ago.

Remember Desert Shield? Then Desert Storm? Then the questions, "why didn't they go all the way and get Saddam Hussein?"

Well, now we know. It may even be worse after Saddam, if that's believable.

The more USA tries to fix things, the worse things get, it seems like.

Road to hell is paved with good intentions, or maybe tainted intentions.

Part of the problem is petrodollars going to dictators over the years. Going to terrorist groups. Seems like the situation is tainted by world demand for oil with it's heightened concern about the Persian Gulf.

Can our economy survive an interruption of Persian Gulf oil, or do we have to make sure, at all cost, that this never happens?

To some extent, maybe we need to address these issues domestically, rather than so much through foreign policy.

What type of transit and pedestrian planning do our local governments have?

I know people who have traveled the world by jet plane, but still haven't figured out how to get across their own town using alternative transportation.

Our domestic situation taints the way we deal with the world. Better domestic planing can lead to better foreign policy.

Hard time for horses

There was a recent show on the radio about how much harder it is to own horses as the price of fossil fuels rise.

Some folks might say, declining fossil fuel era could bring back horsepower, but I would think not.

It takes trucks to bring in the hay. Trucks to take horses around to shows, the vets and so forth.

Land is getting more expensive and more hay fields are turning into grain crops for bio fuel consumption, rather than feeding horses.

Prices for horses are going down and it's harder to unload them, if one is stuck with a horse.

Horses are not really used for energy anymore and they take a lot of energy to maintain. They are kind of a throwback to the past.

Another radio show about some big solar power farms is more likely a wave of the future. NPR Science Friday March 14, Solar Power Scales Up.

Solar farms instead of horse farms.

One time I was bicycling over White Pass (US Highway 12 in 1986) on a hot day. At one of my many rest stops, a truck with horse trailer was stuck along side the road.

Vapor lock.

The drivers marveled as I started to pass them on my bike. Then I stopped again for conversation.

I suggested they hitch up the horses and pull the rig.

That was just good for a few laughs.

Eventually I biked on.

To be totally fair, I am sure the truck and horse trailer got into Yakima well before me. Eventually they got it going again and passed me on down the road, but they expected to get into Yakima a lot sooner. I didn't expect to get there till late evening anyway.

For me, it was a fun day.

I guess one could say, "horses are a hassle."

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Peak Oil Coming, Don't Plant a Garden

Gardens are nice, but I bet a lot of people are struggling with gas prices and mortgage costs just so they can have a place with a garden.
Continued below.

I can bike to flowering trees. Spring is on it's way.

I live in a small rented room where there is no garden space, but it's just a short walk to the grocery store. Also a short walk to work.

Some survivalists fear that oil prices will cause a collapse down our food chain from fertilizers to the trucking industry. Oil does play a part in food production, but it's only a part. Prices at the grocery store have risen, due in part to energy costs, but energy is only a slice of the overall food cost pie.

At the grocery store, these price hikes are still mild compared to the relentless rise in health care costs that Americans have been enduring for years. Also the relentless rise in property values and in some cases rents that has taken place until just the last year.

Now property values are starting to drop to almost more reasonable levels. Southern California, still well over $400,000 single family home. Amazing how expensive home ownership can be.

As for energy costs, yes it does ad a bit to the cost of food. What's more devastating is the cost of commuting. Remember the phrase, "drive till you qualify?"

Those who live closer to jobs and errands might be less likely to have garden space, but the savings in automobile cost can be great.


Then there are community gardens that people can lease space in, if they have the time. If they have the time after working full time and trying to hang on to their health insurance.

Gardens are nice if one can afford the space to have one. Also I am glad someone is still farming so there can be food in the grocery store.

Also remember, there are people still planting flower gardens. Rather than always being practical, they are still bringing color to this world. That's nice, especially as I am biking and taking the time to smell the roses.

Glad I've never learned to drive a car and it's good to be healthy. Enjoy exercise.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Time to invest?

Every once in a while, I put a few hundred dollars into my broad based mutual fund. This might be a good time to buy as the stock portion of that fund is low, but who knows. It could fall still lower. At least I'm not putting a huge chunk of money in. Just contributing some now and then to see how it goes.

It's slowly building up. Even in these turbulent times, my mutual fund isn't doing that bad. Even if it does dip for a while, I know that a lot of folks are in the same boat. In the long run, it seems to go up slowly.

I don't have a lot of money, but something is probably better than nothing.

No, I don't think the end of the world is coming yet. Not in our lifetimes at least. I've been hearing about the collapse of civilization ever since I was in Middle School. That was clear back in the late 1960s. It hasn't happened yet.

I guess if we do get to a point where we run out of food, I can eat my words.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Book and mortar instead of brick and mortar. Are large library buildings still needed?

Bellingham is outgrowing it's popular library.

Scott Ayer's column in Bellingham Herald has had some interesting thoughts about the proposal for a new city library.

There's the question, do we really need a new library since many functions of the library can be done on the Internet? Research, for instance. Quite a few books are now on-line. Libraries provide spaces for community gatherings with conference rooms, but there are chat rooms and other forms of interaction on the Internet.

One cost estimate for the new library would be around 54 million.

City of Bellingham has put the idea on hold for a while.

I say, thank God there is the Internet. The gathering of community in real space can get expensive as well as problematic. Still, like so many people, I do prefer face to face interaction. People also like real things, like books made out of paper that one can hold.

On the other hand, there are problems in society that prevent face to face community as well as access to a wide variety of real items such as books. Paper books take lots of space and real estate is expensive. The city does own the land under our proposed library, but 54 million for a new facility is a chunk of change.

"Real" can be expensive especially when real estate is expensive.

I'm sure they wonder if a new library bond would pass with all those other straws on the taxpayer's back. Also there's the higher cost of maintaining a larger facility. Something that would still have to be calculated into our city's ongoing budget.

Folks often blame the Internet for generations of Americans who don't interact much in person.

Well, I think this problem is more related to economics. Can taxpayers afford such things as libraries and community centers?

Continued below.

There are many forces in society that keep people isolated from one another. Isolated and insular; especially in the sprawling suburbs.

Many neighborhoods don't even have sidewalks. The amount of time folks spend alone in automobiles just getting to work is phenomenal.

Speaking of work, the lack of time for friends and conversation is a problem. Everyone seems so busy. Folks are often are kept busy with trivial pursuits, such as ringing up orders for soda pop at a cash register.

In our fast pace world, thank God there is the Internet. At least there's some interaction on the net and it is great to have such a wide variety of reading material at one's fingertips. More than a single library could afford.

Don't blame the Internet for the dumbing down of America, or people's lack of face to face community. There are a lot of trends in society that create this environment. Things like economic forces and even lack of sidewalks.

The automobile is a big culprit. Interesting to note that part of the cost of a new library is the parking garage. Estimated cost of 4.8 million for roughly 123 parking spaces. That's $39,000 per parking spot.

Maybe folks should be asked to meet their neighbors face to face on the bus.

I'm generally in favor of things like building a new library, but people sometimes call me a "tax and spend liberal."

Saturday, March 08, 2008

My old monitor

Was sitting in my closet, but I don't have much space. Haven't gotten around to bringing it to the Restore, or some spot for recycling. Also they charge to recycle old computers into precious metals. At least keeping it away from toxic landfills.

Then a friend needed a monitor, so I brought it to her. Still works, but the red isn't always there. Must be a faulty red on the electron gun. Good enough for her till she gets hers fixed. Then she can recycle it.

It was one of the more unusual loads on my bicycle. Rode carefully and used plenty of bungy cords. She lives about 2 miles from me, maybe not quite.

Monday, March 03, 2008

It's just money

The phrase "Money doesn't always buy happiness" may be worn out, but death of a top Microsoft Millionaire from suicide can underscore this point. Ric Weiland retired a rich man at age 35 in 1988, according to a Seattle Times article. More recently he suffered from depression and committed suicide in 2006.

At least he left lots of money to various causes. 160 million worth.

This included 65 million for several gay rights organizations. More than 19 million to the Seattle based Pride Foundation.

While "high finance" seems a long way from me, I do remember some local things that Pride Foundation is starting to effect.

Image from March 2005 Pride Foundation newsletter. Group photo of people who showed up at a meeting in Bellingham as the foundation discusses becoming more active in this area. I'm in that picture with my bicycle helmet.

Recently, even before that huge donation, Pride Foundation has been getting more active in Bellingham area as it works to build community beyond just the Seattle area.

It will be good to see this organization do more in various outlying parts of the Pacific Northwest such as Montana, Spokane, Yakima, Alaska and here in Bellingham. They sponsor a lot of community building events, educational activities and scholarships.

Backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government

Ironically, the most secure investments are said to be things like US savings bonds. Yet the US government is now around 9 trillion dollars in debt. If the government were a corporation, it's bonds would likely be in the "junk bond" category. If accountants were evaluating the government in terms of future liabilities versus future income, it would look scary. Future liabilities include things like Social Security, interest on the deficit, Medicare and all the other obligations of the US government. Future income would be the ability to raise money from taxes and other income sources such as user fees for services.

It sure looks like liabilities out pace potential revenue. Scary.

I guess US savings bonds are still about the most reliable investment out there because the government owns the mints where US dollars are printed.

This comment inspired after I listened to an interesting hour on the Bob Brinker Money Talk show about the problem of the deficit. He interviewed an interesting author, but of course I forgot some of the details. Still, my mind keeps spinning.