Saturday, July 30, 2011

Suggestion detecting bicycles at intersections

How does a bicyclist know if they have activated the light at an intersection?


Once in a blue moon, you will find a sign, like here on the WWU campus, assuring cylists that there is a bicycle detector in pavement, but how does one know if they've tripped it or not? Maybe they could paint a sign on the pavement indicating where the detector is located showing the best place to put the bike so it can activate the detector. Pedestrians often have an audio cue to let them know when the walk button has been pushed. For instance the tone of a beeping button changes pitch. Then when the walk light comes on, some of them even say, "walk light is on," "walk light is on." How about connecting the bicycle detector to that system so one can hear the change in tone when the detector has been activated?

Maybe someone has already thought of this, but I might as well suggest it.

Some walk light buttons have an LED light that changes color to indicate when the button is activated. That could be connected to the bicycle detector also. A cyclist can see this from the road without having to go over to the walk button.

In some cities, bicyclists even have their own button to push right by the bike lane without having to cross to the sidewalk and push the walk button. This is real nice, but more expensive to install. It's rare to find that sort of set up. More commonly, the pedestrian walk button is not very accessible to cyclists, but the detection system that works for cars is supposed to apply to the bike also. Problem is, it's hard to tell if you, with your small bike, have actually been detected.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Conservative Christians an oxymoron?

Dilemma that Christians, especially conservative Christians face as right wing policies often contradict Sermon On The Mount. Interesting article Catholic Bishops Blast Boehner's Debt Plan from Faith In Public Life. Toward end of article is the phrase, "Keeping in mind that House Speaker John Boehner is Catholic, and is under enormous pressure from the Tea Party to move in the opposite direction, the bishops' position complicates his position even more."

I'm glad to see the mean spirited Republicans put in their place even by some of their own fellow, for the most part, conservatives.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Good question to ask Republicans. Would they roll back the Medicare prescription drug benefit that passed during the Bush administration?

Roll back Medicare Part D? That specific of a proposal would go over like a led balloon. That's why it hasn't been discussed. Instead Republican Congressman Ryan's proposed budget calls for turning Medicare into block grants.


Folks might say, "okay," they don't understand what block grant means anyway. They'll say, between cans of beer with the football game playing in the background, "whatever."

Block grants. Kind of an esoteric topic. The Ryan budget did go over like a led balloon anyway.

Rolling back a specific benefit, like the drug benefit, or raising the copay would certainly make people upset. They'd understand that even better.

The person who is alleged to have done the mass shooting in Norway is said to be a fundamentalist

An extreme outcome of fundamentalism run amok. Fundamentalist religion can lead to so much intolerance and fighting. He's said to be a Christian fundamentalist, which isn't any better than any other kind of fundamentalist.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Canada is probably more financially sound than USA

Yes I think Canada is better managed and more worthy of being a "safe haven" for money than USA. It's finally getting recognized in money circles.

Lots of energy and natural resources plays a role. Canada is second largest country in the world in terms of land area. They have a lot of resources that the rest of the world uses, but they also have some sound policies when it comes to civil society and economics. It's about time Canada gets recognized in economic circles.

This also means an uptick in retail sales in places like Bellingham along the Canadian border. Kind of a side effect. Bellingham is in USA, just south of the metropolitan area of Vancouver, BC. Cross border retailing becomes a bright spot in the local economy when the Canadian dollar is strong.

Still, it means low pay retail jobs. Jobs are hard to find in Bellingham, but the city seems alive. Being alive is not just from economic issues. Being a "blue state" kind of town, Bellingham people try not to sink with our dollar. People continue smiling and going about their business of concerts in the park, art openings, jogging, bicycling, friends, political causes and so forth. There's often a lot of energy in Bellingham even among people who call themselves broke.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Keith and me at the Bellingham Food Coop

Keith and his wife were visiting the Pacific Northwest from Arizona. Bellingham was one of their destinations. They have been following my web site for several years so they looked me up. We had a great visit. Nice to meet readers of my site.

Bicyclists, only this time they didn't have lots of time so they came in this small rental car. A Fiat. We took the car to some areas in Bellingham, but spent most of a lovely afternoon walking. One of the places we visited was a resident owned mobile home park. Lots of interesting discussion about sustainable living.

Earlier this year.

My mailbox is not at the end of a long lonely driveway, but at the City Center postal station in old Federal Building downtown. Often encountering friends while walking, especially Fridays while Zack and other folks have their weekly Food Not Bombs table. I'm at left, Zack at right. The music, on that street corner, was nice also.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Obama should have allowed middle class taxes to go up

Letting the Bush tax cuts expire would have been better for the economy, but difficult from a political prospective. Republicans had Obama cornered where he had to keep the tax cuts for the wealthy in order to keep the middle class part of the Bush tax cut. Really, he should have just allowed the whole thing to expire.

Tax cuts are said to create jobs, but this isn't happening. Where are the jobs? There's more to job creation than just tax policy.

Even if the middle class pays more taxes, it isn't that big a price to pay for having the wealthy pay more.

Without some tax increases, the government has to borrow too much money to pay for things that people seem to want. Medicare, veterans benefits, your grandmother in a nursing home, the military.

Maybe we should cut all these things, but I don't see many people jumping in support of big Medicare cuts, for instance.

When Congressman Ryan came out with his prototype of a "no new taxes, big spending cuts" budget, Republicans seemed to be slipping in the polls. Medicare is popular and senior citizens tend to be more likely to vote than other age groups.

Now we've got the budget impasse. Seems like taxes will have to go up.

Why the Bush plan to privatize part of Social Security was bad. It would add too much to the deficit

Glad the Bush Social Security plan is dead. It's really old news, but I did hear these ideas come up again on a radio talk show. Most people criticize it for other reasons, but my main problem with the Bush Social Security plan was the added deficit it would create.

The plan would have allowed young people to divert part of their Social Security taxes away from the Social Security trust fund and into private retirement accounts. This would mean that during a long transition period, money would have to be borrowed to pay full Social Security benefits to people over a certain age who would still be retiring under the old system. Borrowing, even just for the transition period, would be quite hefty.

I'm glad that plan is not really being discussed that often anymore. That plan came out before 2008 when it looked like America was such a "safe haven" for money that we could borrow for everything. Borrow for the wars, borrow for the Bush prescription drug benefit.

The crash of 2008 spooked people. Most folks were spooked about relying on private investments for retirement savings, but more importantly, in my book, the national debt started ballooning more after 2008. Many private investments have recovered (so far at least) while the debt is still mounting.

I'll admit part of the ballooning of the debt was Obama's stimulus package. With this much debt from so many sources, the added borrowing for "transitioning" Social Security looks real foolhardy today.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Mobile home park is road to affordable home ownership

Some friends of mine live in a mobile home park that is owned by the resident owners as a co-op. This could be a solution to affordable home ownership since even condominiums in the Bellingham area are usually well over $100,000. Buying a share in their mobile home park only costs $17,500. That's almost like owning the land under your home, but not quite. It's a share in the cooperatively owned park which allows one a space for their home, access to the central clubhouse and other benefits.

Each month members pay dues as well, but the dues are around $160 per month. That's quite reasonable compared to rent in most mobile home parks, let alone renting an apartment. The dues cover ongoing expenses such as water and sewer as well each resident's share of the property taxes that the park pays on all the land.

One also buys their mobile home unit which can be as low as $15,000. Most of the mobile homes are more than $15,000, but $25,000 - $60,000 is a likely range.

When one thinks about it, this is an affordable way to have home ownership, if ownership is desired. For instance, a mobile home for around $20,000 plus the park "buy in" share for $17,500 means buying a house for $37,500. For Bellingham, that's not bad.

Another affordable housing option in the Bellingham area is an organization called Kulshan Community Land Trust. They have some partial ownership schemes also, but I've noticed that the cheapest condominium, currently in their listing, is around $116,000!


That's Bellingham for you. They also work with owners who are buying houses, but these are usually even more expensive, tho I saw a house listed in their office window for $104,000.

Looks like mobile homes are less expensive, but Kulshan doesn't deal with those kind of properties. Mostly, I hear, because financing institutions basically overlook the mobile home option.

With lack of affordable housing such a big problem, I think mobile homes need to be taken more seriously. Problem is, urban zoning doesn't usually allow them. The park that my friends live in is near the city limits. It's still on the bus line tho. Mobile home parks aren't as dense as condominiums and density is good for environmental reasons, but they do tend to be denser than single family zones.

Pictured: One of my friend's neighbors has raised beds for gardening.

The park that my friends live in is quite nice with a small lake in the center, quite a bit of space between the units and a nice clubhouse.

Speaking of clubhouse, that brings up the topic of "community." People I know, that live in mobile home parks, seem to have lots of community. Talking to folks around the mailboxes, going to "Meet your neighbor" meals at the clubhouse and so forth.

My friends, who live in that park, think about it in terms of "intentional communities." They have interest in things like home gardening and sustainable communities. Mobile homes might be a good way to bring this about that is not super expensive.

Below posted December, 2005.

But they are a good form of housing for mobile American society. Average American moves every 5 1/2 years? (maybe even more). We're nomadic. Maybe our houses need to move with us; like American Indian teepees. It's better than commuting, for instance if one owns a house in Everett, works for Boeing in Everett and then gets transferred down to the Renton Boeing facility.

Also mobile homes might do well for answering the question, "should New Orleans be rebuilt?" Make it mobile. Let it move around with the shifting wetlands. Put it where the changing river and coastline wants it, rather than locking it into one spot. Flexibility.

Mobiles might adapt better to floating also. A while back, I heard, on the Clark Howard Show (a radio financial affairs counsellor), a suggestion of making New Orleans homes float. This might solve much of the flooding problems. Radio said they do this in much of Holland. When the 50 year flood comes, the houses just float. Minimizes the damage.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Slowing population growth in Mexico is one factor reducing illegal immigration

At least there's some good news out there. Birth rates in Mexico have been going down and that is one of many factors reducing illegal immigration. Diane Rehms, on NPR Radio, did an interesting show about recent immigration trends.

While decline in population growth wasn't the only factor, I find it interesting that it was mentioned.

Other factors include the worsening job market in USA creating less incentive to head north. Also improving economy in Mexico so more people feel they can stay put. Increased border enforcement has played a role also.

Picture of containment fences along streets within USA, not at, but just near Mexican border south of San Diego, CA. Taken on my 2003 bicycle tour.

Looking at the demographics is a useful perspective. Immigration, both legal and illegal, has provided both good and bad effects to the US economy.

USA has been getting more crowded, but one of the good effects of immigration has been adding to the the supply of young people paying into our Social Security system. This helps offset the retiring bulge of our post war baby boom that is now reaching retirement age.

Come to think about it, the post war baby boom is a demographic issue also. A bulge in the population which, when retired, can use another bulge of young people to pay the Social Security taxes.

This brings up the topic of 12 million, or so, people already here in the US illegally. Many of these people have been paying into Social Security, but will not be able to legally get the retirement benefits when they reach old age, if they are still in USA. What will happen to this segment of the population? 12 million people without a livelihood can be a volatile situation. Something to worry about.

Here's where discussion of a path to citizenship for the millions already in this country illegally comes up. In the past, it has been a political no no. One of the worries against a path to citizenship has always been, "it will just open the floodgates so more folks will come in." Well, now that the flow of illegal immigration has slowed down, maybe that worry can subside thus allowing the political climate for a path to citizenship to improve.

Population growth has a lot to do with these issues. When population growth slows down, things begin to seem less overwhelming.

Below picture, 2006 May Day immigration reform rally in Bellingham.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I got some photos at the Bellingham Pride Parade, Festival and Picnic

Someone took my picture at Pride Picnic. Rainbow hat, rainbow glasses that I found along a bike trail and tie-dye shirt.

During the parade, I danced down Cornwall Avenue in the Faerie contingent. We were right behind Rainbow City Band which was playing YMCA by the Village People as we crossed Holly Street where a video camera was located.

It was a great weekend. I went to most things, but skipped out on a Saturday evening drag show at Rumors Cabaret. It was indoors on such a nice day so I rode my bike around Lake Padden instead and went to Rumors at sundown.


My photos.

My video at festival.

It was another fun time.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Plastic shopping bags will soon be banned in Bellingham

Reusable bags have sure improved over the years. They are preferable to the plastic or paper. Reusable bag pictured above.

Back in the 1980s, when plastic bags were fairly new, people started worrying about their environmental impact. I remember writing a letter to the editor defending plastic bags against paper bags. As a non driver, I liked the plastic over paper since paper crumbled in rain and tore easily. That was from the perspective of a non driver. Most environmentalists who worried about the bags still drove cars.

Back then, reusable bags were coming out also, but I think I remember some were $10. Now the reusable bags have gotten cheaper and better so I can withdraw my support for plastic bags.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Obama deficit?

Okay, maybe they shouldn't have had a stimulus program to try and reduce unemployment after the 2008 crash. If the private sector doesn't create the jobs, tough. Can't the people eat cake? If the infrastructure is crumbling, tough. Just let the bridges fall where they may.

Just kidding.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

2011 Pride Picnic on Saturday

Pride picnic had belly dancers and more. Hamburgers, vegetables and so forth. An appetizer for the big day of Bellingham's GLBTA Pride Celebration. Parade starts at Bellingham High School parking lot before noon and heads down Cornwall Avenue to Chestnut, then up to Depot Market Square (location of Farmer's Market) for the festival which goes till 5pm.

Added July 15 more pictures and video.

Friday, July 08, 2011

When first space shuttle flew, I thought, for a moment, Columbia River had flooded

"The Columbia's up." exclaimed my boss at the restaurant I was a janitor at in 1981, when Shuttle Columbia made its first flight. For a moment, I thought the Columbia River was flooding since I'd given up on keeping track of shuttle news after all it's delays. Earlier space missions had held my attention, but the shuttle seemed like it could never get off the ground.

German stamp commemorating shuttle.

Since then, it's been 30 years of triumphs and problems. In some ways, it's a relief that this is the last mission, but the Shuttle did accomplish quite a bit.

Hopefully, future space vehicles will be even better for reliability, affordability and adventure. Spaceship 2 is one of the many promising steps toward continuing of space technology. It's being developed by private enterprise.

Here are some of the things I remember about the shuttle.

Someone on TV holding a large stack of papers saying that "each tile in the heat shield has a stack of specifications this thick."

Cheering the successful upgrades of Hubble Space Telescope.

Morning the loss of life during the two shuttle disasters.

The Radar Topography Mission of 2000 that mapped the Earth with extreme accuracy. It obtained elevation data on a near-global scale to generate the most complete high-resolution digital topographic database of Earth.

The Shuttle Tether Experiment in 1996 dragging a long tether behind the shuttle.

Launch of the Chandra X-ray Telescope in 1999 which is still bringing back X-ray pictures of the universe. That was the first shuttle mission commanded by a woman astronaut, so I remember.

Launch of the Galileo space probe that went to Jupiter. Galileo faced many delays. When it finally headed off to Jupiter, the high gain radio antenna didn't open properly so the spacecraft had to send it's pictures back at a much slower rate through the low gain antenna. Speculation said that the antenna was stuck because it had to wait on the ground too long before launch thus getting corroded, or something. Waiting for its place in the way behind shuttle schedule. Still the mission was a success since after they got to Jupiter, they had plenty of time to send back the data even at the slower baud rate.

The time they decided to go back to launching unmanned space missions on rockets, rather than the shuttle as the rockets are more efficient.

Second to last shuttle flight which put the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer onto the space station to look at cosmic rays from the vantage point of space. That instrument is preforming well.

So far, this last mission is going well. Hopefully a smooth "good by" to this piece of history. Then I can stop holding my breath for a little while.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Fantasy land and Fourth Of July around Regents Hill Dorms

When I was a child in late 1960s, we set off our "Safe and Sane" fireworks from this small parking lot that looks like it has an island in the center. Looking down on the lot was a grassy hillside where folks would watch from lawn chairs after the neighborhood picnic on the hill. This was my childhood Fourth Of July in Pullman, WA. where there was no city celebration back then. We all fended for ourselves.

The neighborhood I grew up in would organize a picnic on Regents Hill which was right behind our dead end streets. The hillside looked down onto this parking lot where kids would light off fireworks after dark. Parking lot was for Regents Hill dorm complex.

This was in the 1960s and 70s. I took these pictures in 1999. Picnic is no longer happening. At Easter, a few times, the dorms would have an Easter egg hunt all around those fairy tale grounds for neighborhood kids.

Regents hillside where picnic took place. Streit Perham dorms to the east.

Before dark, we would climb up onto this decorative wall at bottom of hill to light off snakes and glowworms. They would drop down over the sides of the wall. The bushes were shorter back then. Come to think about it, that wall is no longer there.

Regents Hill dorms offered a fantasy world of interesting spaces. My childhood was in a small town, but a neighborhood of high rise dorms and urban density. A college town.

Happy Fourth.