Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Triple bottom line accounting for solar power

My brother in Medford has recently put solar collectors on his house. They did cost quite a bit and it would be a long time before that bill could be paid off just in terms of saving on his electric bill.

On the other hand, when friends come to visit, my guess is, the solar panels and the electronics behind them get shown off.

Other folks spend money collecting antiques, buying nice furniture, collecting artwork so they can have something unique to entertain with. Why not be the first person on your block to have solar power? It's a good thing to do.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Home values may have to drop till they are closer to where more working people can afford them

Recent figures on home sales are low. Economists are worried. Federal government may have run out of options for artificially stimulating the housing market. Prices may just have to fall to where more working people can afford to buy. People may have to opt for smaller places also. Eventually the market can find its equilibrium again and movement might pick up.

Meanwhile there are a lot of folks who spend more than 1/3rd of household income on rent or mortgage. Ideally, housing prices should be low enough so only 1/3rd of household income goes to housing. Then more money is freed for discretionary spending. More discretionary spending would help businesses such as restaurants.

If house values weren't so far out of line with wages, people might have more spending money for other things. Especially new folks now coming into the market.

Too bad for the folks who already bought on the high end of the market. Some of them can only get out of that trap through foreclosure process.

I'm glad my rent and my overhead has remained low. In many ways, I feel blessed. I don't have much space. I don't have many possessions either, but I have some maneuverability.

Lower overhead might be one of the things that it will take to get movement happening in the economy again.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Economy running out of stimulus options? Try embracing a slower economy

Worry about the national debt has made it harder to advocate increased federal spending to stimulate the economy, but without government lead does private enterprise tend to flounder?

There's no big initiative, or projects (that I can think of) coming out of the private sector. Little to capture people's imaginations and provide focus or purpose to economic activity. No overarching "larger than life" journey into the future?

Sometimes it takes a war to give the economy focus. War is a deadly strategy, however.

A new frontier is another thing, instead of war, to provide focus. Expanding into space, for instance.

Are we ready to start colonizing space now that we are running out of frontier here on Earth? The economy does need to keep expanding, or does it?

Is expanding beyond Earth practical? Maybe, in the more distant future, but there's still a big disconnect between space colonization and our current situation. We struggling to find the first rung to that ladder.

New technology is another thing that can provide a frontier. For instance, a "technology" frontier seemed to benefit us during the Internet boom of the 1990s.

Is there anything like that on the horizon now?

Obama talks about building the green economy. A new frontier in green technology. That transition could provide a focus for the economy, but will it work? What is a green economy? Will the laws of physics allow us to get there or is most of it just a pipe dream?

How about just slowing down the economy? Seems like we're already accomplishing that; like it or not. Less consumption would be one route to a greener economy.

One way to reduce unemployment is to share the work with more people. Job sharing. Some folks might benefit from shorter work weeks while others could benefit from picking up those extra hours. Work a little less, but spread the wealth more evenly.

It seems like there's a lot of fluff in our economy. Fluff that creates jobs but is questionable as to it's desirability.

I think of new strip malls being built, but will they be leased after construction? Will the products and services be needed or will they just be more "rate race" and damage to the environment?

Would it be better if we could learn how to thrive in a slower economy?

I'm not against new technology and progress, but slowing down can be a virtue also.

Can we have both? Can we have new technology, but also a less harried life?

Less consumption of the environment is one benefit from a slower economy. Also more time. Personal time for individuals to enjoy friends and family. More time to figure out how to use some of the products we've already got. Less stress, less hurry and a higher quality of life. This could be seen as a step forward for civilization.

Yes, it seems important to feel that civilization is always stepping forward. Even if our economy slows down, we still need to benefit from a feeling that the future is brighter.

In the future, longer vacations; for instance. That can be seen as progress.

In slowing down, here is an important question.

Can people survive if more folks are working part time?

It would be good to have more time for things like vacation, but can one still pay the rent? Good question to ask since many folks have to pay well over one third of household income for housing. I hear one third is the percentage of household income recommended for housing.

What if income drops, but rent remains the same?

Housing could start eating up half or even two thirds of household income. It's already there for many folks.

People don't take kindly to cutting expenses if all the cuts must come from the discretionary spending side of household budget. Fixed expenses will need to take cuts also.

If we learn to live in a slower economy, we'll need to figure out how to reduce a lot of fixed expenses in household budgets. Health care expenses, mortgages, rents and various overheads we've inflated in our current economy.

Looks like property values will need to continue dropping since it's hard to maintain the current system when people's incomes drop. That could be a good thing in disguise.

We can create a better economy, but we have to keep thinking in new paradigms.

Yes, new technology, maybe even expanding into space, but also slowing down.

Can we have all these solutions at once? Are they contradictory?

I think it can be done. We can slow down a bit, but still have much of the innovations that keep modern life moving ahead. To do this, we may have to learn how to reduce some of our fixed living expenses, however.

I feel lucky that a lot of my fixed expenses are low. That's been a secret to keeping my life better than just survival even though my income is modest. Nice landlord, no car, for instance.

Monday, August 16, 2010

My take on so called ground zero mosque in New York City

Wouldn't it be nice if they could keep that 1850s vintage building and use it as the mosque/community center, rather than tearing it down and starting over.

Like the Buddhists do here in Bellingham. A Buddhist group resides in the old Scottish Rite Temple on State Street in Bellingham. The historic building gets a new use. The Buddhists adapt to the old building and the building is preserved.

I'm not against a mosque in that location, but it might be nice to recycle that old building. Then what do I know, I've never seen a picture of that building. I know they can't keep everything, but that's one idea.

From what I've heard, they have a lot more planned than could fit in that old building. A basketball court, 13 stories and so forth. Maybe they couldn't adapt the old building. I don't feel real strongly about it. I know we can't hold onto everything. There will always be new construction.

One thing about the Buddhist group in Bellingham, it's "small scale." Religious groups that don't have major funding sources behind them usually adapt to already existing buildings. That can make the groups more small scale, accessible and adaptable.

I don't think there is a mosque in Bellingham, but there are groups that practice Islam and meet in other buildings.

Pullman Islamic Center. Image taken 1989. See text below.

Pullman, where grew up as a child does have an Islamic Center. It was built in the late 1970s or early 1980s, after I left Pullman. Serves a lot of WSU students.

The only thing bulldozed for that building was a hillside, as I remember.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Toward the end of a great vacation

Now in Winthrop, WA. Made it over Sherman, Wacounda and then Looploop Passes in the last 3 days. Now only North Cascades between me and west side of state.
Feeling good.

Skagit Valley here I come.

Just a few days to Bellingham, but I may head out again next week for a day or two in Vancouver before going back to work.

Nice to have long vacations each summer. Radio says stock market is dropping. Worry about trade deficit. Yes, America still does import lots of oil. Rather than worry, I'll continue on my bicycle tour. It's a nice sunny day. The Methow River is flowing beside me. The air feels good. Glad it isn't too hot for my climb up Washington Pass which will take most of the day. Beautiful scenery.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Bicycled over Sherman Pass today

A long steady climb from the Columbia River at Kettle Falls to 5,575 Ft. elevation at the top of the pass. Highest highway pass in Washington State by a few hundred feet and it isn't even in the Cascades. It's in the Kettle River Range.

North East Washington has mountain ranges all across it. Before getting to Bellingham, I still have Wauconda Summit to cross. Then either go over Louploup or go around it by way of Brewster. Then there is the North Cascades.

Slow going. It will take me several days. Sometimes I'm barely going walking speed, but it is an excuse to be out in some spectacular scenery. Also helps to have my radio tuned to NPR.

The Skagit Valley will look real good when I'm finally over all these mountains.

Now I am at a motel in Republic, WA. Spending a lot on motels, but easier than backtracking 3 miles over another hill I'd rather not repeat to get out to the nearest campground, not to mention setting up my tent. This motel has a hot tub.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Russian forest fires

I think "feedback loop." Climate change, drought, more fires then spewing more carbon dioxide into air speeding up global warming a bit. There's a lot of stored carbon in Russia's forests, now some of it going up in smoke. I don't think the sky is falling, but there are these kind of feedback loops that can effect predicted time tables for global warming. Scary.

The news says that some of that haze I am seeing on my bike trip through Spokane area is all the way from Russia, rather than just our own Washington State forest fire season. Lots of haze and orange sunsets.

So far this year, Washington State fire season has been mild, due in part to late season rains.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Passing through Spokane on my bike tour

Just rode the Spokane Carousel.

It was built in 1909 and more recently restored. Part of Riverfront Park which is a remnant of the 1974 Spokane World's Fair. It's a great park. The best post fair use of fair grounds I've seen.

Sometimes things like Olympics and fairs leave mostly a legacy of debt. Spokane's fair left a popular downtown park.

At the time of the fair, I remember many folks questioning whether Spokane should try and pull off a worlds fair. I was in high school down in Pullman at the time of the fair planning. If my memory is correct, I think a school levy failed in the early 1970s leading some to wonder what Spokane was doing attempting to host a costly fair. While it did seem funny at that time the outcome after the fair has been good. Riverfront Park could be the best post event outcome around. Better than an empty Olympic stadium.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Lumberjack sculpture in front of a school

This is in Saint Maries, Idaho as I pass through on my 2010 bicycle tour.

In Washington some of the school construction funds have come from timber dollars in a special budget. As forest lands have been taken out of production, some of the school construction money has had to come from other budgets.

That's Washington politics at least. I don't know about Idaho, but Saint Maries is sure a logging town.

Tomorrow, I hope to ride some miles on Trail of the Coeur D' Alenes. It's a great bike trail that I rode on in 2005. This time, I only plan to ride from around Harrison, ID. to I-90.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Clock missing from Bryan Hall Clock tower

Clock is temporarily removed as they refurbish Bryan Hall clock tower on the WSU campus.

I'm visiting family in Pullman where I grew up. Sometimes I feel like I'm in a time warp.