Wednesday, November 30, 2005

County Connector buses, the 80X

Gate at downtown Bellingham WTA terminal announcing destination Mount Vernon.

Since September 05, there has been a transit link between Bellingham and Mount Vernon. Called the "County Connector," but maybe it's better to say "Tri County Connector." It's a co-operative service linking transit systems in Whatcom, Skagit and Island Counties.

Only costs 50 cents from Bellingham to Mount Vernon! That's about 24 miles. Can't beat the price.
* (Now more expensive. This note added Jan. 09).

Takes around 42 minutes with only 3 stops in between. This state funded service was designed with students in mind, but it's becoming very popular among working commuters as well. Quite a few folks live in Whatcom County, but work in Skagit County, or visa versa. It has become more popular than expected.

Some "libertarian and free market folks" might object because they could see this as unfair "taxpayer supported" competition with private enterprise. Here, the private market has brought us Greyhound bus service between Bellingham and Mount Vernon.

Is government really less glamorous than private enterprise?

Yes, private enterprise brings us Greyhound; not top of most people's perception of glamor, but it works. I've taken Greyhound to Seattle fairly often. Usually gets one there in 2 hours. It's not bad for 90 miles.

Now that Whatcom and Skagit transit sytems are connected, it's possible to ride transit buses all the way to Seattle also; if one knows what they are doing. A friend of mine did it. He had to take buses, from several systems, and spend time waiting for connections. It took him around 4 1/2 hours going by transit. For going that distance, Greyhound is more direct, but my friend had plenty of time.

Linking the transit buses is also, of course, a lot less expensive.

One of Greyhound's problems is the bus being late leaving Bellingham. That's because it often starts in Vancouver, BC and gets delayed at the border. Sometimes more than an hour.

One gets penalized by border delays even if one is not crossing the border!

Still, that bus is usually fairly close to being on time. Greyhound is okay. It's still better than all those cars, one hears about on I-5, getting into accidents.

"Canada border B.S." doesn't affect County Connector buses which start their trips locally.

Another thing that's nice about government provided transit services is the bike racks. Each bus can take up to 3 bicycles. There is a rack in front of the bus.

Greyhound doesn't have bike rack service. One can dismantle a bike and ship it in a box. It goes as luggage, but this is much less convenient.

One would think Greyhound could look into bike racks on front of their buses thus making some extra money. They could charge for use of the rack space, like selling a seat inside.

Where is "innovation" in free enterprise when we need it?

That's one thing I like about government transit agencies. They are innovating with different services. Recently the WTA has gone to "3 bike" racks, rather than the old "2 bike" versions. And even bringing one's bike, it's just 50 cents.

* (Now more expensive. This note added Jan. 09).

Of course private enterprise couldn't compete with a taxpayer subsidized service on price, but Greyhound is still useful, especially for the more direct service to Seattle. It just could innovate a bit more. In this society, governments are often the best crucibles of innovation.

To learn more about County Connector, find it under schedules at the WTA web site.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Macho Flagpole?

Has a missile look. Macho flagpoles these days?

Not really.

It's just a thick pole that also serves as cell phone tower. These are quite common.

No the nation's not going crazy, or maybe it is. People drive too much while talking on the phone. Maybe they should stop driving and just keep talking.

Instead of "hang up and drive" we could say "park it and talk."

Macho folks might say, "but what does talk accomplish?"

One could answer, "talk burns few resources." Also, "talking can be less costly than fighting traffic, fighting wars."

Talk and walk rhyme. Say, "walk the talk."

Think about it. Walk the talk.

Or how about "walk and talk." Then there is "walkie-talkie."

Talk, even if you don't have a cell phone.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Toy Cameras

Some folks would say that all cameras I have had over the years have been toys. They haven't been "high end" cameras.

Last Sunday (Nov. 20) All Things Considered news magazine, on NPR, did a segment called "Loving imperfections of toy cameras." Good for them. Much of the segment dealt with the effects of light leaks.

I say, light leaks can be redefined as "serendipitous enhancements to the artistic statement of a photo." It can be seen as an alternative to "setting the bar so high" in that world of professionalism where everything becomes subjugated to refinement of technique and equipment.

This light leak photo was taken during my 1987 bike tour along Pacific Coast as I passed through Port Townsed, WA. Image of that ornate building was enhanced because my roll of film got exposed to some light as I took it out of the camera.

Oh no, I guess that doesn't qualify as a "light leak" since it didn't come from the camera itself, but maybe I should get a medal for having a sharp memory.

I remember the circumstances.

It was from taking the film out of the camera. My fingers must have fumbled so a few frames toward the outside of the roll got hit. Other images from that camera had no leakage, so it wasn't the camera.

I don't have a big collection of light leak photos even though this phenomena may become the next imaging fad.

I'm not a specialist in any one style.

What I do have is an eclectic selection photos and commentary from years of bicycle touring.

Pictures about interesting subjects.

To me, the subject is what really matters, not the various fads in technique or expense in camera.

See some of my Touring Album.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Aftermath of Chaos Theory ball drop when Bond Hall at WWU had an atrium

Do I really know what I am talking about with a blog post about chaos theory? Does it look impressive soon after one titled Is evolution intelligent design?

I wouldn't try to impress folks by discussing chaos theory, I really don't know that much about it.

Found a picture from the demonstration of said theory that was held last year. (Maybe two years ago).

Up at Western Washington University, just a few blocks from my home, there was a demonstration of chaos theory. Thousands of rubber balls were dropped in the atrium of a classroom building.

They fell and bounced all the heck around.

Quite a sight, for several seconds.

I was too shy, or forgot, to bring my camera, but another drop was planned in a few days.

Drops were in the atrium of Bond Hall. Some folks call it "Bondage Hall" after hearing about long homework assignments.

Next time, I brought my camera.

A drop was planned, but I miss read the time in the newspaper. As I walked across Red Square I heard the rushing sound. Thousands of balls bouncing around. I hadn't gotten to the building yet.

After that crucial moment, I stepped inside with my camera, anyway.

Got above image of balls strewn about the atrium floor. Maybe this image is just as good as the blur of bouncing balls.

Lots of cute college students were around to witness the event. Math majors and so forth.

Since those days, Bond Hall has been remodeled and the atrium has been filled in.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Bus Rapid Transit

I found a Seattle Times from November 13 2005 with this great article about using dedicated bus lanes for mass transit.

Monorail has been voted down. Sound Transit light rail is proceeding so slowly that most of us will be dead before there is very much mileage. Dedicated bus lanes could be a magic, or almost magic, answer. Like walking, it may not be some "block buster" fantasy, but it is something; actually something quite impressive.

Often people will overlook the things right under their noses. It's our "throw away and start over" society. Building a whole new transit system from scratch often means we get "just about nothing" as the plans must be scaled back for cost.

Rather than trying to be so revolutionary and then falling back to nothing, it might be better to stick closer to what's already built; the massive highway system. It can be modified. Putting some dedicated bus lanes on a few cross metro area routes could make a real big difference in the not too distant future.

Here is a link to the web site for that proposal. Better explained than I could do.

The case for bus rapid transit

Monday, November 14, 2005

Is Evolution Intelligent Design?

Is Evolution Intelligent Design?
Also, is intelligent design evolving?

A rainbow can be described in different ways. It's a colorful rainbow, but it's also just light refracting through water droplets.

This analogy can apply to our bodies as well. Are we just complex electrochemical reactions, or intelligent human beings with consciousness and feelings?

Take this analogy farther and think about processes that developed the great variety of life on this planet.

Is it just stuff like interacting molecules, random chance and natural selection or is it intelligent?

I believe it can be both.

The rainbow is both "rainbow" and "water droplets." We are both "biochemical reactions" and "human beings." The natural processes that lead to our existence are both "mechanical," in some ways, and "intelligent" in other ways.

A related question might be. "What is intelligence?"

Some folks might wonder if those of us who ponder these questions are truly intelligent. Of course, being intelligent is not necessarily the same thing as being pragmatic.

Some people say that the Earth, itself, is intelligent. The Earth could even be conscious.

Why not? It's a complex system, like our bodies.

Can an ecosystem, or a forest, be conscious? How about a nation or economy?

Sometimes these things are said to "take on lives of their own."

How about the house remodling project you might be working on? These are often said to "take on lives of their own."

Where does one draw the line in calling something intelligent? Does a line have to be drawn?

Then there is the entire universe. Maybe it's intelligent.

Evolutionary theories and intelligence need not conflict.

This doesn't really answer the question about what should be taught in biology classes. It's just my thinking that what is currently taught, in it's mechanical workings, can also be intelligent. Possibly it's more intelligent than so called "intelligent design" curriculum; what ever that is.

I admit that I just took biology 101, but I was amazed at how the molecules in a cell just happen to be in the right places at the right times for the cell to work. It's truly amazing how this all fits together. No one had to mention a God for me to get the feeling of awe.

That doesn't mean I don't believe in something people could call a God. It's just that my biology class didn't have to mention it for me to be awestruck by the intelligence and the intricacy of it all.

Similar to seeing a rainbow. I didn't have to learn about that beauty in a Sunday school room.

Not that I didn't learn some valuable things in Sunday school rooms as well.

The whole picture seems intelligent, to me, but at the same time it seems to work like some machine.

It can be both.

Maybe the reality of this question can even be influenced by the observer's "frame of reference." Look at the rainbow from one angle and it's a rainbow. Change angles and it disappears into mere water droplets.

Reality, influenced by the observer. A difficult concept for most of our rigid minds to fathom.

This is talked about some, in relativity theory, but I am not going to pretend to be an expert on that.

Unlike what fundamentalists teach, understanding of truth can be flexible .

By the way, photo is a rainbow taken in 1995 on my bike trip through Colville, WA. Maybe not the most spectacular, but it was handy.

Monday, November 07, 2005

I-90 leading to Snoqualmie Pass down there in the valley

Seen on my 2005 trip from Iron Horse Bike Trail.

Today's news says pass is closed again. Another rock slide. This time just east of the pass. They don't know when highway will be reopened.

Last summer, during my trip, a rock slide closed west bound lanes just west of the pass. 3 people died when rocks crushed their car. I had no idea what had happened until I stopped in a store along US 97 which connects I-90 to US 2. Wondered why there was so much traffic headed north on 97 as I was going south. Turns out they were diverting I-90 traffic to Stevens Pass (US 2).

Except for seeing streams of traffic detouring over 97, my trip was not effected. I took the Iron Horse Trail across Snoqualmie Pass anyway, so I wasn't planning to take I-90.

That was September. Now it's happened again, only no one killed, luckily. Rock slide east of Snoqualmie Pass has closed freeway in both directions. I just hear about it on the radio.

Yes they do need to put money into maintaining highways. Hope Initiative 912 fails. It would cut gas taxes for our transportation system.

Of course I could be smug and say it doesn't matter. The Iron Horse Bike Trail is still available. Actually, I think that closes for winter.

While I don't drive or use gasoline, I do drink plenty of chocolate milk. Much of the hay that fuels our local dairy farms is trucked over the mountains from eastern Washington. Hay trucks use I-90.

It's all part of the interconnected web of our economy.

Approaching light at west end of 2 mile long Snoqualmie Tunnel. It's a part of the Iron Horse Bike Trail east of North Bend, Washington.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Libby Indictment. Some memories of Watergate

News of Vice Presidential aid I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby's indictment and resignation reminds me of an earlier time.

Mrs. Bertleson (I think that was her name) ran out to a car I was sitting in and proclaimed, "Ehrlichman and Haldeman just resigned!"

Excitement in her voice.

It was April 30th, 1973 and someone was giving me a ride home from Pullman High School TV Production class. Watergate was in the news. Careers in media were "the thing."

A TV was set up in our school's "people pit." It was tuned to Watergate hearings. Students could mill around and see American history unfold.

Great for civics class.

Even the people pit was an innovation. Steps that went nowhere. Carpeted steps for sitting, lounging. Architects noticed what students liked to do. It was a brand new building.

President Nixon was not popular in that school. The Vietnam war was dragging on.

There were still some conservatives. They would point out that people had better be careful not to trash the President too much. The Russians were still coming and they didn't allow any criticism of their leaders.

Now there is talk of threats from Iran. Threatening to wipe Israel off the map and possibly getting a nuclear weapon.

Does anyone remember the "Domino Theory?" That was a big worry during Vietnam War. "If we let down our guard, the Communists will take over Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, eventually America."

Stepping stones, but not the friendly carpeted steps of our people pit.

Did that ever happen? Did the domino stepping stones ever fall?

Not that I remember, but we did get "Domino's Pizza." And Russia got the Big Mac.

The communists started quarreling among one another and their empires crumbled. Vietnam invaded Cambodia, after we got out of the way, and the Soviet Union kind of fell apart from its own weight. Or did it take Reagan (Nixon reborn?) to push them over?

Will the youth of Iran throw out the old guard religious zealots? Do they need us to help them, or are they better off with out us? Are we doing more harm than good; in Iraq, around the world?

Is our empire about to crumble?

These are both exciting and scary times. Some glee and jubilation over the problems of Bush (I never voted for him), but also a lot of worry.

America did survive Watergate and Vietnam.