Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Venturing into another year


Found this in a folder from last summer's walking along the bay. Zoom lens.

"Happy New Year."

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Lots of future jobs in health care?

This assumes the health care industry can continue to be financed.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Walk along path from Jersey St. on Sehome Hill

We had a white Christmas. Rare in this area. Snow is melting now.

Why steam is still rising from old Bellingham Georgia Pacific site

It's a power plant. See also Future heating district for Bellingham?

Used to be for cogeneration when GP was still going. GP benefited from its waste heat. Now it's just a power plant (burns natural gas), but could play a cogeneration role in future waterfront development.

Steam rises part of the time when plant is in use.


Riding my bike around town snapping images. With energy issues making news, here is the cooling tower and power lines by Encogen power plant in Bellingham. Kind of like "found art." Modern art.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Rush Limbaugh forgets we're a flash in the pan

We had a white Christmas this year, rare for Bellingham. Glad we can still have white Christmases occasionally.

Heard a spot from Rush Limbaugh yesterday morning on the radio. Saying global warming isn't so bad, it's happened before; like 14 million years ago as evidenced from fossils in Antarctica.

I say, yes, the Earth has warmed and cooled over millions of years, but humans have only been around for a short slice of Earth's history. Maybe it was warmer several million years ago.

Still, we're worried about the next hundred years because we plan to be here for that period of time.

We weren't here 14 million years ago so no one (that I know of) "sweated it" back then.

The next hundred years is pretty important to us.

If we figure out how to curtail our greenhouse emissions, the Earth might give us the next 500 years of stable climate. That's enough time for our civilization to continue flourishing.

If there's going to be another "naturally caused" global warming trend in a few million years, we've got time to plan for it.

Will we even be around then?

500 years is a short time for nature, but a long time for us.

Do we want to bring on global warming now, just because we know it might happen again in a few million years?

That's kind of like saying, "cross in front of traffic now cause you know you'll be dead in 200 years."

Sure we've had ice ages and periods of warming over the millions of years, but there weren't ski resort operators looking at the sky wondering if snow is in the forecast so they can pay their debt on the new ski lodge.

In the next hundred years, the ski resorts and farmers are among us. We can't stand hearing them bitch.

Maybe, in less than 500 years, we'll be a space faring civilization anyway (if we're still around). Then we might not be so worried about Planet Earth. In 500 years, we might be elsewhere.

500 years is merely a flash in the pan compared to millions and billions of years, but these next years are important to us.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Santa seen in window of local bike shop

Bailing Out Homeowners?

I hope they help renters also with the broader issue of affordable housing. More money for HUD.

Also they shouldn't just help current homeowners. What about those who have already been foreclosed on and are no longer in their homes? Back to square one.

How about people who never bought in the first place.

How about subsidizing more folks to become first time home buyers? Someone like me could buy a condominium if there was a $50,000 grant to help defray the cost. On my income, I could possibly put up the other $50,000 based on borrowing with house payments being around 1/3 my income. The grant would be a good boost toward the bottom of our local condo market which still hovers over $100,000.

If they want more people to be homeowners, let's get some new homeowners in the market. Grants for renters to become homeowners? Government pay half the mortgage? Then when you sell, the government's $50,000 investment would stay with the condo to keep it affordable for the next owner. There's actually a program like this that I read about.

What about the folks that have already had their homes foreclosed on? They are now out of the market as if they were starting over again. How about giving them money to get back into the market? Like giving folks money who haven't bought yet.

The Federal Reserve can just print up all this money. More money in circulation leading to inflation eventually.

Inflation across the general economy can bring everything up to the level that property values are still at, to a large extent.

Either that or property values will have to come down some more.

One should also ask, "is home ownership the holy grail of life?" Should everyone strive to be a homeowner?

Or are we better off finding other solutions for some people; like affordable rent?

I've had a good landlord so far.

Another solution to the housing debacle is to allow more renters in single family neighborhoods. Let homeowners rent out rooms to help pay their mortgages.

That could help both renters and homeowners.

These changes would have to be done at the local level, but Obama can use the "bully pulpit" to advocate this.

Allow more density. It could reduce commute times also as more people could afford to live closer to work. Reduce traffic. Save energy.

Bump up density in many of the current residential zones. Wouldn't be as much of a problem if people weren't so dependent on automobiles.

Traffic? Parking in the neighborhood? Cars in the front yard?

It wouldn't look so bad if it was bikes inside the house or people taking the bus.

So many things interrelate.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Warm memories of snow holiday from school

Whatcom Creek in the snow at Cornwall Ave.

When school was canceled, my sister and I would cut out pictures of products from magazines. We each had a shoebox that we would drop our images into.

Our collections grew.

When school was canceled, there was more time to add to these collections.

Pictures would be snipped from magazine ads, articles and catalogs.

We were furnishing estates. There would be estate cars, color TVs, radios, CB gear, fishing rods, couches, love seats, bathtubs, furnaces, camping equipment, auxiliary power units, sonic depth finders (for boats), you name it. We'd collect it.

Drop it into the shoebox.

Just imagine, if not being able to go to work means one's estate can grow faster. More time to cut from the endless stack of magazines.

Those were warm memories that came back when I heard someone call a radio talk show describing how they spent the day that their kids couldn't attend school.

A snow day.

They stayed home and had "quality" time.

Opposite of our "on call 24/7" economy.

Opposite of the idea for getting rid of summer vacation and having school 12 month per year.

Let the estates be made out of paper. When school was out, we prospered.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

US economy burdened with too much overhead

America, and also much of the rest of the world (not just America) reminds me of a family I met who traveled in a big RV. The wife couldn't open a can without the husband having to start up the generator as the can opener was electric.

We are burdened by high paid executives, yes.

Also expensive real estate creating a high cost of living.

Then there's health care costs.

Not only inefficient health care financing, but poor health in the population.

People working so hard to pay the cost of housing that they don't have time to live healthy. Working so hard to pay the cost of health insurance that they can't afford to be healthy. Can't afford the time.

Throw in long commutes also. No time for dance, exercise, in depth conversation or even a good night's sleep.

Not enough people ride bikes.

Much of the development is too spread out.

On top of this you toss in two wars so people can get to work (oil). More military spending than all other nations combined (from what I hear).

We have security worries gumming up the works, bureaucracy, law suites and more lawyers per capita than other nations. Fear of new technology. Fear of new ways for doing things.

We have more drive up coffee places. Hurry up and wait.

There's got to be better ways to function.

Some people would call me an elitist for criticizing the way people live and do business.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Jogging in the slow lane

When I'm in my 50s, how can I keep up jogging with a friend in their 20s?

Answer: neither of us were jogging at our fastest pace. We were both just jogging together. If we had been racing, maybe he could have beat me, but we weren't racing.

Before going to some dance at a place called Purple Church, I saw one of the folks that I recognize from the dance at a cafe. We sat together and then jogged to the dance.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ponzi Scheme shows peter principle rather than brain drain theory is correct

When institutions such as corporations, government agencies and universities jack up executive salaries, they are contributing to the Peter Principal rather than combating brain drain.

To combat brain drain, they say they have to offer big salaries to attract top talent to their organizations. Pay more rather than standing by as top talent is "brain drained" away.

I hear this theory all the time, especially expressed among educational institutions. It's articulated there, but applies to many forms of business and government alike.

Now we see what the very top of the pay scale is capable of. Yet another scandal. Both those who were perpetrators of the Ponzi scheme and the many "best and brightest" who fell for it.

The Peter Principle where "people tend to Rise to their levels of incompetence" seems more accurate most of the time.

If institutions weren't so burdened by fear of brain drain, they could save lots of money on executive salaries.

Maybe top talent doesn't always command top dollar.

Insisting that top talent requires top dollar is kind of an insult to the many folks who are so committed to their work that they, in some cases, even volunteer.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Normal weather feels colder if people are used to warmer weather

View at State and Magnolia Dec. 13.

It snowed some in Bellingham last weekend.

Pretty. Also pretty cold.

We have had several mild winters so this one is hitting people by surprise. It isn't even Dec. 21 yet.

I remember a few colder winters from years past. They seem less frequent in recent years, but it's still possible, thank goodness. Something to break the gray drizzle monotony.

Maybe we can blame global warming for feeling real cold. If cold weather is less frequent, then we aren't as used to it when it does come.

My room gets a bit cold, but jackets and an electric blanket help. My electric heater remains on low power since there are several things on the same circuit.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Car has big footprint and gasoline is hard act to follow

Someone sent this to a mail art show I compiled in the 1980s. I'm not sure where this picture was taken or what magazine it was cut out of. I used it in a collage.

There was an interesting segment of Science Friday on NPR Dec. 5 08. It was talking about the "energy density" of gasoline.

Hard to beat gasoline for energy output per pound. Our best batteries, so far, the lithium ion batteries only produce about 1 / 100th of the power per pound as gasoline.

Amazing! Pound for pound, gasoline is 100 times as much energy. No wonder our economy can't shake it's dependency on gas.

Hydrogen does better. Per pound it can have 4 times the energy of gasoline, but it takes up a lot more space. For unit volume, gasoline still has around 3 to 4 times the energy equivalent of hydrogen. In other words, hydrogen is light weight, but it takes up more space. Requires a bigger tank.

This was part of a book called "Physics for Future Presidents" by Richard Muller. He was interviewed on that segment of the show I just heard.

Reducing energy consumption is still the easiest way to go. We haven't found a miracle fuel that replaces gasoline yet.

Making the car lighter, of course, helps, but for safety, a pop can is light and crushes too easily.

I still like my bicycle which goes slow enough to not crush so bad.

My bicycle is especially good when I'm able to use trails and road shoulders away from the traffic.

Motorcycles are faster, but they go right in the traffic lane. Little protection.

Who's in a hurry anyway?

Public transit is good for both speed and safety.

Trains and buses are great and a friend of mine recently made airline reservations from Austin Texas to Seattle. He said the plane ticket was actually cheaper than the cost of gas if he were to ride his motorcycle all that distance.

Imagine that, it's actually cheaper flying that long a distance at least. That's because you're sharing the fuel bill with more than 100 other passengers on the plane.

Imagine how efficient trains or buses can be.

Even though I ride my bike, I've thought about an idea for a solar car. Yes, run the car on sunlight.

Problem is, solar panels need to be bulky to have a lot of capture area. Big capture area to power a car.

That doesn't work driving down the road since a car needs to be aerodynamic. Can't have a giant solar panel catching the wind.

So, have foldout solar panels.

Yes, park the car, then fold out your bulky panels and let it charge the car while you're at work. Fold it back up when you're ready to drive home again.

OK, you say it's too much work.

Also you're worried that vandals will damage your panels. Other cars might bump into you're bulky panel setup in the parking lot.

Then you're using the panels to charge that battery. A lithium Ion battery?

Able to store 100 times less energy than it's weight in gasoline. No wonder it hasn't caught on yet. Still good to do the research.

Experiment. I'm sure it will get better eventually.

Meanwhile, I'll still take the bus and ride my bike.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Market solutions for funding youth programs?

There's a large market that finds young people to be erotically attractive. How about selling erotic services, possibly even legalizing prostitution, to help fund young people and youth services?

Oh, you say the idea is preposterous?

I'm suggesting this as a critique of the concept of relying on the marketplace for everything. Is the market really the best solution in all cases?

Maybe employing youth in erotic industries isn't a bad idea for funding their services.

We do rely on gambling to pay for a lot of government and social services in today's economy.

Gambling on Indian reservations is a marketing concept that pays for quite a few things.

The state lottery is another marketing idea.

Some call the lottery a "voluntary tax on fools." Brings money to the state that doesn't have to rely on raising taxes.

I don't know if these are good ideas, but why not include erotic services in the mix? In another kind of society, the business of sexuality could be a money maker for government. An enterprise that's quite pleasurable as well.

Could add to the revenue for youth services that currently comes from government sources, volunteer donations, churches and so forth.

Better than the one arm bandit at some casinos. Better than scratch tickets.

Maybe it's not such a bad idea. Who knows.

On the other hand, we can't rely on market solutions for everything.

This society is kind of uptight about things like that. Also there's problems associated with exploitation.

Another thought for the trash heap?

Moving on, here's yet another idea.

In the early 1980s, there were psychologists on KVI radio in Seattle. It was a "call the psychologist" talk show.

Someone named Jennifer James was one of the on-air psychologists back then. She could analyze issues and help people between commercial breaks. I thought she was quite good.

President Reagan was in the White House. Funding was being cut for various counseling agencies.

I thought, "Government funded counseling clinics being cut back?, maybe radio psychologists could take up some of the slack."

A Novel idea?

So I wrote a letter to the American Enterprise Institute (a think tank leaning toward market solutions). Suggested pop psychology on the radio as a means to take the burden off of publicly funded counseling agencies.

They wrote back saying it was a worthy suggestion.

Thinking about this more, I realize some problems with putting the therapist's couch on the air.

Not enough time to really do justice to one's client callers. Hard to solve problems between commercial breaks.

Most radio counseling sessions were short as they had to "wrap it up to pay the bills."

Sell more refrigerators.

Regular counseling, in a psychologist's office, can be limited as well. Sessions often restricted to 50 minutes. "50 minutes with the clock ticking." Expensive also.

On the radio, there's usually even less time. There's practically no confidentiality either. Your session is broadcast to thousands. Names were anonymous though.

Another thought for the marketplace of ideas.


*Radio psychologists were on KVI in 1980s predating the current talk format.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

When government becomes the consumer of last resort

Both Congress and President elect Obama are talking large stimulus packages. Government becomes the "consumer of last resort" and, if done properly, it can buy things we really need. Things like transportation infrastructure and affordable housing. The private market hasn't been bringing enough of what we really need.

Construction on Walton Place near downtown Bellingham.

A stimulus check as tax rebate might just go into the private market and get lost in buying imports. Do we really need more toys from China?

When government becomes the consumer, it can direct spending toward more long term needs that private market doesn't seem to buy. Things like roads and bridges. Research into cleaner energy.

I'm sure private markets do some of this, but it seems like government needs to set direction. Let private enterprise do the work, contracting and so forth while government buys.

Pictured above is a large crane working on local project of mixed and affordable housing. Crane was brought in this fall as lots of other projects faltered from the current economic crisis. This project is moving forward. Government is involved. HUD money I think.

Government can be the consumer of last resort. Also, hopefully, a wise spender.

Where does government get it's money?

I'm scratching my head.

Hopefully it doesn't have to be paid back.

The Federal Reserve prints it?

I'm sure government does owe lots of money, but somehow, it seems to get by ringing up more debt. Interest rates remain low.

There's plenty of capital, but government seems to be the only conduit that's trusted these days. I guess it's called priming the pump.