Monday, April 30, 2007

Bike Away From Work

Budding lilacs with pine in the background.

May 18 is Bike To Work Day in Bellingham, but some people might feel it's another obligation.

"As if work isn't enough, now they expect me to bike there after working overtime and so forth," some will say.

So, bike away from work.

For some people, piling a bike trip on top of an already overburdened day is just another "should do." For others it's a relaxing and refreshing change from sitting at work. A breath of fresh air and a way to stretch one's legs. For some, biking will be a treat to and from work, but it isn't the same for everyone.

Biking away from work is an answer also. That means using the bike for recreational trips such as weekends or after work. Biking when there isn't as much pressure to "get there on time" can be a joy.

Americans tend to be overworked anyway. For some, the bike would just be another task. For others it's a welcome break from the tasks.

As a culture, we could also use more vacation time and break from the work-a-day world. If nothing else, better health could be justified in terms of increased productivity and lower medical costs, but why turn all our choices over to the bean counters?

Maybe we should just bike for the fun of it. If one finds it too much of a burden to bike to work, how about biking more on your time off? As long as it's biking, it's good.

Personally, I live so close to my job that there is no point carrying my bike down the stairs to ride it that short distance. I just walk to work.

My biking is during time off work. I've biked across America, but one doesn't even have to be capable of that. Just biking anywhere is worth while. Spring is starting to unfold.

See a Bike To Work page in my web site.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Cell Phones and The Slow Lane

Some people complain about cell phones, but before cell phones, I didn't like regular phones.

Preferring to think about what I am saying, I write letters. The phone forces one to think on the fly.

Even before cell phones, I would write a letter to another person in town, rather than pick up the phone. People may have thought I was strange. The phone was just too fast for me.

Email still allows me to think about my letter. Delivery is just faster. The best of both worlds.

It's not technology that's the problem, it's "the speed of business."

Phones are always interrupting. They turn face to face conversation into disjointed sound bytes between the phone calls. When ever you get a good conversation going with a friend, the phone rings.

Phones often lead to multitasking. One reason why I am reluctant to phone people is it seems like you get the quick brush off from about half the folks you call. Everyone's multitasking with a second call on line two.

Cell phones bring the phone to more places, like trails and the wilderness. That can be good for safety reasons, but it also can mean the work world is just a ding-a-ling away.

I do bring a prepaid cell phone with me on my long bicycle tours. It is fun to share the tour, as it happens, with friends and family. No, I am not against cell phones. They can be kind of fun.

It is best to be stopped when your talking. Even on a bicycle, multitasking and driving isn't good.

When I make a call, I like to talk a long time, but I don't wish to interrupt my contemplative life to make lots of little calls.

During my childhood, people used to complain about "transistor radios" in the forest. Contaminating the natural experience with used car ads was not considered PC. Youth camps often had bans on radios.

These days, about the only "phone free zones" where people can meet face to face for uninterrupted conversations are in saunas, steam rooms and hot tubs. That is until they develop cell phones which can be cooked in an oven and submerged in water.

I don't really have anything against cell phones compared to regular phones. I just don't use either that often. When I do use them, I try to not be hurried.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Bellingham YMCA Building Turns 100 Years Old

Construction site with large steel columns and foundation walls, 100 years ago. If you look real closely, there's a horse cart parked by the old Bergs Pharmacy across what is now called State Street. The view across Holly has changed also. Click on image for larger version.

Sometime around 2006, 2007 someone can say that Bellingham's main YMCA building turns 100. It depends on whether one counts from start of construction, grand opening or what ever.

The building didn't start as a YMCA. It was an office building. At first, it was called The Exchange Building. Back then, the Y was across Holly Street in a building that later became the Odd Fellows. That place still stands as apartments today.

Before becoming a Y, the Exchange Building was offices and stores. State Street was called Elk Street back then. Notice the horse carriage headed up Holly St.

Next the Exchange Building became "Hotel Henry." That was in the mid 1920s. The 1940s saw that building become a Y. From what I read, the building was donated, to a large extent, for the Y.

Hotel seen from alley before gym was added. Image taken from an inventory book that was produced around 1927.

The gym and pool was added around 1951. There has been many remodeling projects over the years; including quite a few recent projects. They are always doing something.

After the year 2000, a second climbing wall was added to the south side. Newest climbing wall is 65 feet tall. First climbing wall was added during the mid 1990s.

On March 6, 2006, Bellingham Herald did a historic feature on the building. That's still available in archives.

There are quite a few old photos around. These images are two of my favorite that I scanned while working on the custodial crew.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Is God Hiding in the Dark Matter or the Dimensions of String Theory?

Our perception of the universe keeps getting larger and larger. In ancient times, it seemed like Earth was "center of it all" and not even all of Earth was known about. The Romans had no idea that the Americas existed.

There were also many things, like thunder, that were unexplained. They were attributed to the gods.

As our knowledge grew, we started explaining things in more mundane terms. We could make statements like, "thunder is not angry gods, but more explainable events in the atmosphere."

Science has a tendency to demystify things. It tends to push the idea that "something is caused by a god" farther from the picture as understanding advances.

Does that mean science can explain God totally out of the picture?

Not really, at least in my opinion.

Here's a reason why.

While scientific understanding tends to explain God out of our little world, it also tends to expand our world. As the known world grows, the unknown world grows also.

The unknown world may even be growing faster than the known world.

The universe that we try and comprehend is much larger today than the Romans would have imagined. Not only is Earth larger than the Romans thought, it's also just a tiny speck in something even bigger. Billions and billions of stars, planets and galaxies, as Carl Sagan would have said.

There's still plenty of room for mystery. Plenty of room for God, or even gods, to hide in.

Just in case you thought the billions of stars and galaxies aren't enough mystery, I read that possibly 95 percent of the stuff in our universe is totally invisible to us. It's the so called "dark matter" and "dark energy."

What is dark matter and / or dark energy?

No one knows.

We don't see the light from it, but many astronomers think it's got to be there because they see the effects of its gravity on the stuff that we do see.

Dark energy seems to be repelling the galaxies apart at an ever increasing rate while dark matter is arranging and tugging the galaxies around in various ways.

It's like invisible hands pushing and pulling things around, but we don't see what's doing this.

For now, we can leave dark matter and dark energy in the pile of unknown. That's the pile where we toss God also.

Even without that 95 percent of the universe people call the dark stuff, there's still a lot of the visible universe that's mysterious. Billions and billions of galaxies and lots of unexplained stuff. Even unexplained stuff right here on earth. Unexplained stuff in our ecosystems, brains, what ever.

As soon as we pull some new understanding out of the pile, we find that pile of "unknown" just gets even larger. We never seem to explain God into a corner or out of existence. The universe is far too large for that.

If our world was as small as the Romans must have perceived it to be, we would be well on our way to explaining away God. We would have explained thunder, much of weather, the flowing of streams, the chemical reactions that cause fire, evolutionary theory leading to the variety of species and so forth. Basically, we would eventually run out of mystery.

Still thinking inside the box of the Romans, God's corner is getting quite small.

As it is, we are no where near running out of mystery as our perception of the size of the universe just keeps growing along with our understanding of certain things around us.

Falling off the edge yet? Image from one of my bicycle trips down the Oregon coast.

There is a phrase that goes something like:

"The more we know, the more we know that we don't know."

There is still plenty of "place," on this huge stage we call reality, for God. More place all the time as the pile of unknown seems to grow faster than the pile of known.

It's like we're loosing ground.

It's also kind of like we are getting more humble all the time.

Yes, more humble.

In many ways, we seem to be less arrogant than the ancients who thought that man (for the most part not even women included) was the center of the universe.

Here's an analogy that I thought about this while I was mopping the floor. My custodial job gives me time for contemplation.

Ancient man sat in a room of darkness. He kept hearing a rustling sound that he thought was a mouse in the room.

"Mouse" means "God" for the terms of this analogy.

He kept hearing the rustling, but couldn't see anything due to the darkness. He thought, "it's got to be a mouse till he turned on a light."

No mouse visible.

"So, the mouse must be around the corner, behind the dresser, under the bed?"

He turns on more lights. He lights up a bigger area.

He sees under the bed. No mouse. Behind the dresser, no mouse.

Soon the entire room is lit up. No mouse can be seen and he realizes that the rustling is coming from a window shade.

Yes, there's a window shade. It's making a rattling sound in the wind.

Seeing the window for the first time is when ancient man first gains the concept that there is such a thing as an "outdoors."

In the dark room, he thought the little room was all of reality. Now he sees more. "There's such a thing as an outdoors!"

Now there's more room for mystery to lurk.

He can now ask questions like, "where does the wind come from?"

Yes, science tends to demystify a lot of things, but at the same time, it keeps pushing the frontiers of knowledge out into much larger worlds. Bigger worlds where mystery still abounds.

As the world of unknown keeps growing, I also read about many scientists describe the world that we do know in poetic and even artistic terms. Sort of like, "even the world that we do know is not really that totally mechanical either." It can be described more like a work of art than just the grinding of some impersonal machine, at least according to many scientists who I read about.

That's another whole tangent of thinking and it's quite fascinating.

It seems to me like we may have all but "proven out of existence" the god of the small world that fundamentalist religion was born out of.

That god, who is said to have "created the Earth in 6 days." Now days, he seems to be just about folk tale. That's the god who's "6 day creation special" defies geological findings.

A little while ago, I heard that, "on the 7th day, God ordered pizza."

It's believable, especially when the priest owns stock in a pizza delivery company.

The true universe is much larger and more mystical than folks living in that small world of Biblical times even imagined. Maybe they had some useful insights that we can still benefit from today, but the world is much larger and even more mysterious than that.

Now, as if that unseen 95 percent of our universe, we call dark matter and dark energy, isn't enough, there is String Theory.

Folks working on "String Theory" could be opening yet another "picture window" on the great unknown.

More dimensions.

10, or maybe even 11 dimensions!

More dimensions than just the familiar "up / down," "this side, that side" of a cube.

We can picture 3 dimensions. We can even (almost) picture the fourth dimension.

Yes, the fourth dimension.

That's the dimension which "relativity folks" describe as being "Time."

We have 3 spacial dimensions and a 4th dimension we call time.

Einstein talked about "Space Time."

Hard to imagine, but I can almost wrap my brain around it. Well not really.

String theorists even talk about something called "Brains." Yes, brains, like in our heads? Or maybe more like membranes?

No, I don't really know what the concept of "brains" means either.

So, what about the 4, or even 5 additional dimensions?

It's dimensions beyond our current conceptions.

Yes, String Theory seems to explain a lot of things in this universe that are now, you guessed it, mysteries.

String Theory is supposed to unify the world of "Quantum Physics" to the world of "Relativistic Physics."

Don't ask me why. I just know that for String Theory to work, "they" say it has to have 10 or 11 dimensions.

10 or 11 dimensions. Wow.

Then we ask, "why?"

All these dimensions have to be there because some physicists say so. A lot of physicists. Theoretical physicists with mathematical equations that look like gobble-de-gook to me.

Well, I take their word for it. That's all I can say. I got a "D" in basic algebra.

So far, String Theory, or even dark energy and dark matter have not been totally proven. It's just that a lot of scientists think we are really on to something. On to something rather profound in explaining more of this universe.

We just keep asking more and more questions. Our world keeps getting larger and larger and there always seems to be plenty of room for something folks can call a god.

I guess one can say, "it can truly be seen as an artistic, fantastic and mysterious world out there."

Friday, April 13, 2007

Liberal talk may not work on radio since people listen in their cars. Driving brings out the conservative in folks

A tower I drew while I was in college, probably while I should have been taking notes in class.

Media full of news about Imus firing from CBS.

Also people full of questions, "why is radio talk so mean spirited?" "Why don't liberal talkers do as well in the ratings on commercial radio?"

Well, maybe it's because a big share of the radio audience is driving. Yes, driving and fighting traffic. People often say that they become a different person when they get behind the wheel of their cars. More angry, mean spirited, hurried. "Move it buster, don't take all day."

That may influence which stations get tuned in.

I know some drivers who want soothing programs, but maybe they are more apt to go for music, rather than talk radio. Classic KING FM (in Seattle) for instance.

As for me, I listen to radio a lot, but I don't drive.

My dial is often set to gentle and educational talk. Talk like one finds on NPR and Seattle's KUOW.

Also on some other stations like Canada's kind and gentle CBC Radio One with CBU out of Vancouver, BC. Even KGO out of San Francisco, CA. has some good talkers, but being a commercial station they do have some yellers as well.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Drive till you qualify drives sprawl

Qualify for a mortgage that is, and or just an affordable place to live.

One of the most senseless realities of economics in regards protecting the environment.

Drive out from the city till you find an affordable place to live. Drive out till you qualify for a mortgage. Lower income people having to move farther out usually means more driving and sprawl into rural environments.

This may be one of the biggest environmental problems we face. Things need to be done to remedy this bad economic reality.

Solutions include:

* In-filling in the cities and towns to provide more affordable housing for both renters and owners.

* Population control.

* Public transit, rather than automobiles, out to some of the hinterlands so people who live out there don't have to drive so much.

* The Internet and tele-commuting to cut down on that long commute to work.

* Clustered development in the hinterlands.

* People not expecting to live in such large houses or yards.

* Higher gas prices and / or lower property values, thus creating a different market environment so "drive till you qualify" no longer makes economic sense.

Economic sense and environmental sense need to match up in a better way.

Here is a cartoon idea about low and moderate income people facing two monsters.

Monster in the city is high property values / rents and mortgages.

Monster in the country is rising gas prices.

Monday, April 09, 2007

My favorite kind of socialism / welfare state

Let the machines do the work and pay the taxes while humans enjoy the "welfare state."

Of course maybe us humans need balance, rather than not working at all. We can let the machines do most of the work and let us work "part time."

It's my kind of socialism and I am not really a socialist.

Actually, I would consider myself a part socialist. I believe in a large public sector, but also advocate a more or less "free market" economy.

"More or less," that's balance.

My scale is tipped toward calling myself a socialist when the prospect of having the machines do most of the work is suggested.

Maybe we should still work part time for balance, but really ... The machines can do a lot of mundane and repetitive tasks better.

Why have human bank tellers when machines can do it? Miss that human smile at the bank? Well, that smile is short lived when there's a long line of customers that have to be hurried through the line.

Hurried, harried?

Can't we just do our mundane banking by machine and then head to the beach where our former "bank teller now artist" hangs out? On the beach we might have more time for long philosophical conversations.

Yes, my kind of welfare state. Machines do the work and people enjoy a benevolent society.

We can even program the machines so that they don't grumble when they pay the taxes.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Sex talk did not impress this child

All the media talk about Catholic priests, predatory web sites and parents afraid to let their children bike to school has brought up a memory from my childhood.

It's too bad there's so much fear out there. So much fear that parents often don't allow kids to bike places. Obesity is on the rise.

Is the problem really that bad, compared to traffic hazards, for instance?

Still I remember an encounter. I hadn't thought about it for a long time, but all this recent talk in the local media has brought back the memory.

One weekend I was riding to a nearby town to have a picnic in the city park. Maybe I was in early high school, but my memory is a bit foggy.

Anyway, this fellow, in grubby overalls, struck up a conversation with me. Of course, "grubby overalls" - the stereotype.

He was a construction worker. Working on one of the dams on the Snake River. They were building dams back then so a lot of the workers lived in the area.

Being a kid, I started asking a bunch of questions. I was interested in dam construction.

How thick is the concrete? How does the coffer dam work? How deep are the foundations? When do they start putting the generators in?

Instead of being a "font of information" about the dams, this man I met in the park just invited me into a nearby restroom.

I wondered what he was trying to show me; concrete work, pluming examples, electrical conduit?

Instead, he pointed to the nasty graffiti on the stalls. The sexual graffiti. He started asking, "Do you do this?" "Have you done that?"

I just said "no" and "huh?"

I didn't know what to make of the conversation so I left.

He wasn't giving me very much information about the dams on the Snake River. I wasn't interested in the graffiti, it just seemed kind of dirty, or nasty, to me. The dam construction interested me more, so I just left. I got on my bicycle and rode away. The bicycle can be a good escape.

It didn't seem like that big a deal.

Sometimes I wonder if the fear is worse than the problem. Not that the problem is good, it's just that the fear can really be traumatizing and crippling.

It's always good to be careful and use common sense, but when fear starts to rule, everyone needs to stop and take a deep breath; so to speak.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Cleaning Up The Network

Back when I was a child (if my memory is correct) the Pullman Herald published plans from the telephone company for cleaning up its network. This was some kind of dust blower, scrubbing device that would follow the lines through various neighborhoods.

Telephone users were advised as to when the scrubbers would be in their neighborhoods. To prevent dirt and various forms of smut from getting into the home, users were advised to place the telephone into a bag on the days that the lines were to be cleaned in their neighborhoods.

This could help protect both the children and adults from network smut and dirt getting into the home.

I don't remember for sure, but there may have been something about placing a paper bag over one's head, if the phone bag leaked and dirt got into the house anyway.

Then there was something about disconnecting the phone and bringing it out into the yard for swinging it around one's head while screaming like a chicken.

Cleansing the phone? Hysteria?

That must have been for very severe "dirt bag" situations.

I was a very small child at the time and don't remember the details very well.

I do remember that it was an April Fools joke.