Monday, June 30, 2008

Burning calories instead of carbon

Serendipitously met someone in town who was headed to River Farm near Van Zant, WA. for a concert. Several bands were scheduled to play, there was camping, dancing and so forth.

Nice hot day. Ripe for a bike ride, so I headed that way myself. Yes, I could just go to Lynden or Ferndale to turn around and come back, but why not Van Zandt? Dancing around cute young shirtless guys. Nothing could beat that. Pleasant ride also.

It took 2 hours to bicycle that 23 miles and the breeze was refreshing. I spent about 4 hours at the farm with dancing and even some skinny dipping.

There were a few folks spotted among the gathering that I knew from around town and "Purple Church hippie androgynous dancing."

Rather than camping, I headed back to town that evening with lights blinking all over my bike. Got back by 10:45 to meet up with a friend who wanted to go Saturday night dancing at Rumors. More dancing, different music, different venue. Nice way to round out the day.

The friend who met me at Rumors talked about having driven down to Triangle Recreation Camp, near Seattle. That's America's largest member owned gay resort. Just about everyone at Triangle was sitting in RVs. My friend said it was kind of boring. Like "insular" life in the suburbs. Few tents, no dance or anything bringing people together was planned that weekend.

That was gay pride weekend in Seattle, so I guess most of the action would be down in the city. Nothing was planned for the campground. Hardly a soul walking the trails that day. Inside those big Rvs? Might as well be in the suburbs.

Sitting in the RV watching the DVD.

OK, living in a giant RV might be cheaper than buying a house these days.

Nice to have a dance and something to bring folks together, even if it isn't necessarily a gay campground. River Farm was joyous at least. Kind of funky with some old dumpy looking vans, tents and so forth.

I was one of 2 who bicycled there. There was at least one other.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Good news from out of this world

We need all the good news we can get. Actually it's from in this world. People developing science and technology.

Two recent unmanned space missions are just starting out and looking quite successful.

Soil sampling near the pole of Mars. They've found ice within reach of their digger gadget. The spacecraft works. Another one was lost near the pole of Mars in 1999. Being able to sample Martian ice and soil in vicinity of the lander is what they hoped for cause this lander doesn't drive like the now old Opportunity and Spirit Rovers that are still preforming on other parts of the planet. Ice and soil are both within reach of this lander. Looks good.

Now there's a new Gamma Ray Telescope in orbit. It's just being calibrated and soon to discover new things about black holes, dark matter and so forth. Working well. Gamma rays are the highest frequency of electromagnetic radiation we are aware of. New windows into our universe. In the early 1990s, we had the Compton Gamma Ray Explorer, but this one is much more sophisticated.

Some wonder why we ponder the cosmos when we are so busy with Earth's problems.

I'd rather do this than watch a football game or fight a war.

Many of these big astronomical projects are the result of international efforts, these days. Not so much USA patting itself on the back for a job well done. USA is still an important part of the picture, but many of these missions are the result of international collaboration at it's finest.

Someone I know feels we are really in trouble on this planet because global warming might be accelerating. Just wait till melting polar ice reveals trapped methane and releases it into the atmosphere. We're cooked.

My guess is, he wouldn't have much interest in Martian ice since we've got to worry about our ice.

I don't know if our global warming situation is that dire, but assuming it is, space science might be the only solution. If we're really going to fry in the next few years, we'll need to orbit a huge set of blinds between the Sun and Earth.

Levolor Blinds might be best, but I'm not working for the Levolor Blinds company. Maybe some other set of blinds would do.

Bicycling is still my form of transportation. An interest in discovery draws me to bicycling. Someone ask a friend of mine, "wouldn't biking through Eastern Montana be boring?" This friend said, "not boring to a geographer."

I've biked across Eastern Montana on a few trips. Discovered interesting flowers, thunderheads, soils, landforms, little cafes. I'll admit, Canadian CBC radio out of Regina was a help. Interesting talk. It seems like most people would just roll up their car window and shoot through an area like Eastern Montana as quickly as they can on the freeway.

An interest in discovery could help us get out of the day to day global warming rat race.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

House values way ahead of wages

It seems like so many people say they ...

"Couldn't afford the house they live in if they had to buy it now."

The only reason why they can still afford to live there is the fact that they bought it years ago when prices were a lot lower. Their wages have not kept up with spiraling house values over the past years.

This means that first time home buyers tend to be priced out of the market, until houses come down in value, or wages rise dramatically.

No wonder houses are starting to come down in value.

That could be a good thing if it makes houses more affordable again.

Another side of the "not being able to afford the house you live in" coin is this.

"The house is worth less than what you owe on the mortgage."

That's most likely if one bought recently, or borrowed against the house just before the market starts to drop.

Basically houses were just too expensive compared to most other sectors of the economy.

Should the government try bailing this out?

If they think homeownership is that important, let them figure out how I could buy a house also. Buy a house without having to move too far from my job, or break my neck trying to work two jobs or stomping over folks on my way up the corporate ladder.

If my wages and savings remained the same, I could afford something in the range of $40,000 - maybe even $50,000. That's figuring about 1/3 of my income for house payments plus the savings I have for down payment.

I have a reasonably good job, by Bellingham standards. Not top dog, for sure, but not bad especially when one figures the benefits.

Problem is, there is nothing in this market, not even small condominiums; nothing even close to the $50,000 mark. Not that I know of at least.

Kulshan Community Land Trust has some experimental ideas that could be subject for another post.

Still, homeownership is not necessarily the "holy grail" for all of life. I have a very nice landlord and affordable rent within easy walking distance of work.

On a related note, someone just sent me a great column by Paul Krugman in the New York Times dated June 23 2008. Titled "Home Not-So-Sweet Home."

About how homeownership is not necessarily all its cracked up to be for everyone.

When home ownership is too much of a fad, that's one reason for the price being high. Everyone wants to do it.

Overpopulation, zoning rules and so forth push up prices as well. Also low interest rates have put a lot of cash into the market.

It's kind of like fake cash.

Most home buyers in this area seem to just get the money from the house they owned in the past, not from working.

Bottom line is, much of this home value inflation hasn't been because of wages.

Based on honest wages, can you afford the home you're now living in?

People at the top of the pay scale might be able to, but how about most of us? If not, how sustainable is this situation? Should the government try and keep the bubble going?

I think not.

There are other ways to cope, like living in a smaller space, taking in renters to help pay the bill, if you're a homeowner and zoning allows.

Solutions need to be sustainable.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Gay marriage is at least temporarily recognized in California

In Canada, gay marriage has been legal even federally for some time now. Has that society unraveled?

Canada may have even more civility and social cohesion than USA.

Canada is a good example of how things aren't falling apart, as far as I know at least. I live close to Canadian border. Canada looks pretty good.

I did hear on radio that California's new marriage law replaces language of bride and groom with "party A" and "party b."

Inclusive, but kind of barren sounding.

Maybe they should just add a few more words and say "bride and groom" or "bride and bride" or "groom and groom."

I've never planned to get married so it doesn't make a big difference to me. I'm glad people have the choice, but being single has some advantages also.

Variety in lifestyles, that creates a more diversified community.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

One part of the American dream that's getting smaller, lighter, easier to carry and less expensive

Computers.

On a bike tour, I remember wandering into Starbucks to see if there was a computer for checking email. "You have to bring your own laptop to use WiFi," says the clerk. That was in the "classy" Stanford Shopping Center, near Palo Alto, CA.

Laptops were expensive and too heavy to carry on my bicycle, back then. Too heavy along with my tent, sleeping bag and so forth. Most shoppers darted in an out of jewelry stores buying gems for their lovers and driving SUVs back to their $500,000 starter homes.

With chain grease on my face, I felt like some street person wandering into that mall.

Kind of like a street person, but then I called someone from my new cellphone. A prepaid cellphone for just the summer.

It was my bike trip of 2004.

Now it's 2008 as people find they really can't afford $500,000 starter homes and SUVs are being dumped for gas prices. My bicycle still rolls and now there's a computer small enough to fit.

The Asus EeePC.

I paid well under $500 including sales tax. Less than many folks pay each month for rent. Now I can surf the web, watch Youtube, check email, use Skype at WiFi connections. Lightweight PC fits on my bike.

Runs Linux. It's a free operating system created by volunteers. I saved money by not installing Windows, which you have to pay extra for. Linux does the job.

I also looked at a few other even smaller gems, like the Apple IPod touch. The Asus really impresses me and I have often wanted to venture into the world of Linux.

Thanks to libraries for use of their computers while traveling, but more and more of the private Internet cafes require you lug along your own computer for their WiFi these days. Libraries are great, but they're often closed in the small towns I go through.

Computers keep getting smaller and cheaper. Now, even "car free," bicycling me can travel with one.

Fits in a pannier and slim enough to put other things around it.

Now if we can just learn to make "smaller and better" a mantra for other parts of the so called American dream, we can still make progress on this small planet.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

You're supposed to be where? for exercise

A friend of mine just held his camera up and went snap. Dancing wild. One of the foam parties at Rumor's Cabaret where suds flow from a machine near the ceiling. Foam events are a few times each year. Other times without the foam, but still lights, music and energy. It's almost too much.

I'm not much of a bar person, but I sometimes go to the bar for exercise. Dancing can be some of the best exercise. Still, it's almost too crowded. Glad Washington State has made bar experiences smoke free, however.

For conversation, forget it. When the loud music's going at least.

I go to the sauna at YMCA for conversation where decibels are moderate. People often think of Y for exercise, but I think of the sauna which is more like a piano bar. A piano bar minus the piano and minus alcohol, where discussion can abound. There is exercise in various parts of the Y, but I usually get that elsewhere. I go to the Y like it's a piano bar and then I go to the bar like it's an exercise gym.

Funny.

Neither place I drink, except water. Don't mind paying a cover charge. How else can they keep it going if everyone was like me and just went for the pure water?

Water is usually all that's available at Purple Church; another local dancing experience. Purple Church is actually in some one's house. He bought an old church. Compared to Rumors, it's kind of like the experience of eating an apple versus the experience of eating a candy bar. Purple Church being the apple. Less intense. Maybe only one string of dim Christmas lights. No "laser, video." Less decibels, but of all it could still be my favorite. The sweetness of an apple, but it's not a candy bar.

I don't eat many candy bars, but after these experiences, from the drying heat of a Y sauna to the sweating heat of music, I often chug a lug a whole quart carton of decadently smooth chocolate milk.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Population problem more noticeable now

Population, in far parts of the world, isn't that noticeable to wealthy countries as long as most of the world's people remain poor and don't drive.

World population is more noticeable, now that more of the world is driving.

Price of oil is going up.

I ride a bicycle. Last time I bought gas was for a lawnmower when I had a lawn mowing job for an old lady who called me her "yard boy."

Some of my neighbors, here in USA, who drive, are now saying they may join me in my lifestyle.

Maybe overpopulation is good if it gets more people in USA to live like me.

Still, I think world population growth needs to be slowed down; especially as so many people wish to drive.

Back in the 1970s, my thinking was influenced by an organization called the World Watch Institute.

Come to think about it, that may have been when I had that lawn mowing job.

World Watch came out with a landmark paper linking feminism, population and the environment.

I was in college back then.

Still haven't shed my Bohemian lifestyle. I was never a "party animal," if that's what people think of when the word Bohemian comes up, however.

Today, I'm still "child free" and live in a room that's not much larger than my college dorm room was.

Now, I am glad to see another book come out from World Watch linking population, feminism and environmental issues. A more recent book which can add new energy to the discussion.

The book was featured May 29 on NPR's Talk Of The Nation Science Friday show.

Let's do the time warp again, only this time, pay attention.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Fox News as the fifth estate

For checks and balances, one might be tempted to say "that's putting the fox in charge of the hen house."

Monday, June 02, 2008

Saw this small car parked one day

Don't know much about it. Electric? Gasoline? Must get real good mileage. Great for one or two person commute without having to carry a lot of stuff.

Some folks wonder why Detroit can't make high mileage cars? Well, Americans tend to want to "have their cake and eat it too."

There's usually a trade off between safety and fuel efficiency.

Simple physics provides limitations. Of course one can strive to do better, but there are limits.

I have perpetually heard about the perpetual motion machine. The machine that government and corporations hide so it doesn't cut into oil sales.

Perpetual motion. Now that would be great mileage.

It's all Dick Cheney's fault. I voted for Gore in 2000 anyway.

In truth, one way to increase mileage is to reduce weight. Lighter vehicles do better.

I ride a bicycle.

Lighter cars get good mileage, but there are trade offs. If Americans want their cake and eat it too, they don't do trade offs well.

A smaller vehicle has less protection. I don't blame people for not wanting to be on the road around semi trucks and large SUVs in little cars.

It's the meat in the sandwich thing.

Motorcycles are said to be about the most unsafe form of transportation, but they can be fuel efficient.

My bicycle seems a lot safer, but I seldom go over 15 MPH and I am usually out of the traffic pattern. Thank God for shoulders and bike trails.

So I don't blame people for wanting the safety of larger vehicles. It protects the family.

Safety trumps fuel efficiency, especially if gas isn't that expensive.

How expensive is your life? Hospital bills can be real high compared to gas.

Detroit started making smaller cars in the late 1970s, but it takes time to retool the production lines. About the time they were retooled, gas came down in price compared to other things in the economy. Other things such as hospital bills.

When gas seemed high at around $1 per gallon, in the late 70s, one could still buy a house in Seattle for under $20,000. By 1998, gas was not much more, but try buying a Seattle home for under $300,000 then.

Late 1990s saw about the cheapest gas prices in human history. Cheapest, relative to other things in the economy. Cheaper than the 1950s in relative terms.

That wasn't a good time for selling small cars, in USA at least.

Clinton was in the White House, the tech boom was in full swing and Asian stock markets were tumbling.

Remember the late 1990s Asian stock market tumble? It was pretty much confined to Asian markets, but had the effect of slowing oil demand in that part of the world. That contributed to an oil glut on world markets. Cheap oil, at least for a while.

Bad time for Detroit to be selling smaller cars. That's when the SUVs were coming into popularity. You had the soccer moms, the security moms (or maybe they came after 911). Small car makers got burned.

Now we are in a different price environment. Gas is going up and small cars are coming back into demand.

Detroit can't tool up to make small cars in a day. It takes time to reinvent the production lines.

Going back to a 55 MPH speed limit might help demand for smaller vehicles. Collisions at slower speeds are less deadly.

Sure they can improve safety all the time. Airbags, real strong composite fibers in the frame. Still, there are always limitations to physics. Slower speed limits can help the safety of lighter vehicle users.

We just can't have it all. Maybe we can try, but there are limits.

For true safety and fuel efficiency, there is always public transit.

GLBT Resource Guide

My guide to gay community things in Bellingham has a new home. It uses the blogger system in a new way even though it isn't really a blog. Labels work well for customizing the guide under each topic, such as (for instance) "Churches."

Looking forward to the parade and main Pride day in Bellingham on July 13.

It's actually a GLBTA resource guide. A stands for Friends of GLBT people. GLBT stands for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender.

A includes friends of other sexual orientations. Maybe it's a laundry list, but that's what being inclusive is about.