January 30, 2007

Bumper sticker of the day:
I live in my own world. They know me there.
Caitlyn and I went down to Southcenter today, mostly for something to do. I never thought I'd be so appreciative of free balloons.

The mall is doing this major upgrade, and the food court is completely shut down. There are snacks available, and lots of chocolate, but no sandwiches or pizza that I could find. So we had our peanut butter and jelly sandwich squares in the car.

And that gave me lots of time to think about parking lots.

It's probably not in the upgrade plan, and there's probably some equation for the number of parking spaces "required" per shopping opportunity, but I think the parking lot at Southcenter (and probably everywhere else) should have more trees. Perhaps one tree for every six parking spaces. Imagine how pleasant that would be: lots of shady parking spaces in the summer, landmarks to help you remember where you left your car, improvement in aesthetics, plant life to balance out all the automotive emissions. Sure, there'd be fewer parking spaces, but (a) more people could use with the exercise of parking at the far end of the lot and walking and (b) if a decrease in parking spaces coincided with the arrival of, say, a light rail stop or convenient bus service, then it wouldn't really matter.

I suppose it's a bit much to ask for fruiting trees and reclaim some of the lost acreage for local food production, since the fruit could drop on cars and make a mess of someone's new wax job. That's ok. If we have to sacrifice acreage to pavement and parking lots, at least the addition of trees would make all that blacktop less of an eyesore.

January 29, 2007

Ian and Caitlyn were playing with our smaller camera (it fits in Ian's pocket, as opposed to the big camera, which needs a backpack) the other day. Caitlyn loves the cameras. Recently, though, she's stopped mugging for them and wants to push the buttons. One of these days, I should post one of her pictures... sometimes they come out as something recognizable (even if it's just the ceiling), sometimes they are very "modern art". Anyway, Ian was explaining why one shouldn't put one's fingers on the lens; it's the camera's eye. Caitlyn got that.

Later Ian turned the camera off, and he and Caitlyn talked about how the camera's eye was closed because the camera was sleepy. She took it upstairs to her room, laid it in her bed, and put a blanket on it.

Tonight, after her second bedtime story, Caitlyn said, "More book. Nap soon." I told her, "One more book. Bed time soon." She came back with If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, nearly whacking me in the head as she got back into bed with it. When we were done reading it, she stood up to get another book. I turned out her light and told her it was bed time. She laid back down, interrupted her lullaby to tell me that she wanted her "big blankie" and her "little blankie", and when her song was finished, told me, "Goo night. 'Eet dreams."

Tomorrow, she will likely play a vigorous game of Flop on the grown-ups' bed. At some point, after flopping, she'll pause to announce, "Caitlyn lay down. Night. 'Eet dreams." She'll repeat it until I tell her, "Sweet dreams," then she'll giggle, stand up and say, "Caitlyn flop," before hurling herself back onto the bed.

January 25, 2007

Proof that sometimes things actually get done:

Ian's team at LiveLabs has just released a Firefox plugin for Photosynth.

I've recently finished the first phase of a client's project and launched Windows to Vietnam, a site about a soon-to-be-published book of photographs and poetry about modern Vietnam.

And because everything really does revolve around Caitlyn no matter what I may sometimes think to the contrary, new photos are up at Caitlyn's site.

January 19, 2007

Today's quote of the day:
"They stopped waiting for the government to fix things."
I heard it in a story about getting heath care in Uganda, but I think it's worth pondering by people who are not Ugandans.

Take a moment to imagine what could be done, what could be fixed or improved, if we all stopped sitting around, complaining and waiting for Someone Else to "fix things."

January 18, 2007

Apparently, there's this viaduct thing downtown. It's big, it's ugly, it's noisy, and it's structurally unsafe. Should there be a moderately significant earthquake, we are told, the whole thing is likely to come down. But, apparently, no one can really agree on what we should do about it. Certain parties (Seattle's mayor included) want to tear it down and replace it with a 6 lane tunnel, a project that has a price take to the tune of several billion dollars. Other parties balk at that sum and insist the viaduct can be repaired or replaced for significantly less money. Now, Washington's governor has gotten into the act (I guess it's something about the viaduct actually being a state highway) and has said that if there isn't a vote on the tunnel vs. rebuild by the end of February, we get a rebuild by default or the state money goes to fix the 520 floating bridge, something also in danger of collapse.

So there's the highly-abbreviated, surely-missing-something-crucial synopsis. And I'm just going to take the moment to go on record as supporting the little-discussed third option: surface streets. I'll also confess that (a) I don't live in West Seattle, (b) I almost never drive on the Viaduct, (c) I don't work or live downtown, and (d) I don't know what I'm talking about. But, regardless if it's a tunnel or a rebuild, they are going to have to shut the viaduct down to do the work, and all the traffic that currently uses it is going to have to go somewhere else. So, I say, tear the dangerous hulking monstrosity down and don't replace it with anything. Use the money currently available for fixing the viaduct to radically improve public transportation and get a functioning lightrail going before 2027. The space formerly occupied by the viaduct can be split in some way between those who want to use that space for "unifying downtown and the waterfront", whatever that means, and those who want more green space.

We folks in Seattle talk the green talk really well. But actually give up our cars? You're kidding, right? I say, it's time to walk the talk. The best way to get people to stop driving is to provide regular, thorough transportation alternatives and simultaneously make driving really, really unpleasant. Oh, and if at the same time, if the area's the major employers would develop significant in-house support for telecommuting, that would be even better.

January 11, 2007

It's not like I'm a Seattle native or anything, so maybe I don't know what I'm talking about, but I don't think snow is generally all that common for Seattle. Something about being so close to the great atmospheric equalizer that is the Puget Sound. But we had our third or fourth snowfall of the winter last night, and today has been white and fluffy, clear and cold.

Caitlyn and I went out, of course. Going out in fresh snow is always a challenge for me just because it looks so pretty when I'm still inside. It's a big, white, fluffy blanket draped over everything, and adding footprints rather ruins the illusion. But then, they've closed all the schools, and the neighborhood kids are all going to come out and ruin my illusions, so I best get out there and ruin them first, right? Besides, Caitlyn needs to be exposed to snow.

So for Caitlyn: tights, socks, sweatpants, shirt, sweatshirt, snow pants, shoes, jacket, hat, hood with scarf, and mittens. Her nose and eyelashes were about the only parts left "exposed." She waddled into the front yard and around to the back, helping me dust the snow off the evergreen plants (well, I dusted snow from the evergreen plants, she dusted snow from the leafless blueberry sticks.). She lost her balance, ended up on her knees, and needed a lift getting back to her feet (over-bundled, perhaps?). The occasional snowball, mislaid missiles from the snow fights among the teenagers last night, she called "'No-ball." We've not had a clear day in weeks; she'd say, "Bright light," and turn away from the sun before saying, "Down, up, peese." In the park, we watched the bigger kids attempt to slide down a short hill (into a gully full of rocks - oh, to be 12 and fearless!). One boy rolled down the hill instead, then laid there laughing, covered in snow. Caitlyn looked at me and said, "Uh-oh. Lay down."

For anyone curious, the official precipitation count as of midnight last night was .36 inches more than "normal" for January. I figure we had about 2 inches of accumulated snow this morning. As the afternoon fades, most of it is still here.

January 09, 2007

I've, more or less recently, gotten interested in paying attention to the seasons. Not just in a "Gee it's really stormy this afternoon" kind of way, but in a "Circle of Life" kind of way (with apologies for the Lion King reference). And part of paying attention to the seasons, for me, seems to be eating local, seasonal food.

There are lots of reasons to eat locally and seasonally, not least of which is minimizing how far the food has to travel before it ends up in my kitchen. Yes, it's possible to get strawberries in January, but they didn't grow anywhere around here. How far did they travel? How much fuel was used to get them here? And keep them happy, not too hot and not too cold, on the trip? And how green were they when they were harvested so that they would be perfectly red on the market shelf and not overripe and smashed?

But here's the trouble I've run into: I haven't the slightest idea what to do with some local, seasonal foods. Kale? No idea. Cauliflower? Nope. Any winter squash other than a butternut? Uh-uh. For that matter, I'm pretty clueless once I've looked beyond the potatoes and the broccoli. Sure, I can look up a recipe and follow directions, but it's hard to find the motivation to do that when I'm not sure what the final result will really be.

So, here's my solution: a cookbook with good pictures and easy-to-follow steps with local, seasonal, no-fail recipes. There should be some background info on each vegetable including how to pick a good one at the store, a rough idea of what it tastes like, what goes well with it, and the basics of preparation (to remove the ribs in kale or not to remove). The recipes should be flavorful, straightforward to prepare, and designed to help people get over their fear of the "unknown scary vegetable". We could call it No-Fail Recipes for Scary Vegetables.

Because, even though it's yummy, there's something really depressing about eating Roasted Squash Risotto all winter long.

January 04, 2007

It's becoming a bit of a tradition for me to mark the changing of the calendar year by reviewing the BBC's annual list of 100 things we didn't know last year.

The highlights of 2006:
In the "Language is weird" category:
  • Panspermia is the idea that life on Earth originated on another planet.
  • The medical name for the part of the brain associated with teenage sulking is "superior temporal sulcus".
  • The clitoris derives its name from the ancient Greek word kleitoris, meaning "little hill".
  • Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobiacs is the term for people who fear the number 666.

In the "Faith in My Government" category:
  • US Secret Service sniffer dogs are put up in five-star hotels during overseas presidential visits.
  • In the 1960s, the CIA used to watch Mission Impossible to get ideas about spying.
  • George W. Bush's personal highlight of his presidency is catching a 7.5lb (3.4kg) perch.

In the "Useless Trivia" category:
  • The lion costume in the film Wizard of Oz was made from real lions.
  • Sex workers in Roman times charged the equivalent price of eight glasses of red wine.
  • Cows can have regional accents, says a professor of phonetics, after studying cattle in Somerset.
  • The Himalayas cover one-tenth of the Earth's surface.

And finally:
  • In Bhutan, government policy is based on Gross National Happiness; thus most street advertising is banned, as are tobacco and plastic bags.

January 03, 2007

I heard an NPR segment this morning (I was listening to the Shuffle in the kitchen, so the segment is likely no where near recent) about some scientists who are seriously looking into ways to create a man-made universe. Something about creating a mini black hole and then introducing something to that black hole which triggers the repulsive aspect of gravity. Yes, we normally think of gravity as The Great Attractor, but apparently it can also be The Great Repulser. Given the "equal and opposite force" thing I remember from sixth grade and the more or less dual nature of just about everything, I can't say I'm all that surprised. Here's hoping the trigger for gravity's more repulsive aspect isn't all that common... I may not be fond of falling, but I'd rather not be uncontrollably driven further and further into space.

Anyway, there are some scientists thinking about man-made universes. Which, as a thought, is kind of interesting. And the NPR segment did cover why they are thinking about it: curiosity, mostly. What wasn't discussed was what might happen to this universe when a second universe suddenly starts expanding in the middle of it. I've always thought of additional universes in parallel with this one, an endless row marching toward the horizon, each one more or less oblivious to the next.

But if a new universe starts expanding in the middle of this universe, what happens? Is the new one constricted by the boundaries of the old one? And if so, are the boundaries of the new one permeable? Or does the new universe smash everything in the old universe while filling all the space contained by the old one? Do the universes intersect somehow? What happens at that intersection? (Is the portal between universes in the lab where the new universe was created? That should do interesting things for both lab traffic and reputations.) Is it a calm intersection, and life everywhere goes on as usual? Or is it a swirling vortex of quantum physic madness, sucking in and reshaping everything it can?

January 02, 2007

A Frenchman is making "green walls". Which are exactly what they sound like. Rather than a wall being made of wood or concrete, he's making them out of living plants. Well, the wood and concrete are still there, you just can't see them any more because the wall is entirely covered with plants. Think dense jungle on the side of your office building. Or in the lobby. Check out his site, Vertical Garden, because the pictures are cool and the final products are currently stumping my powers of description.

These walls are probably too "designer" for practical, wide-spread application. Watering and fertilizing are done automatically, and some walls need artificial light. Heaven help you if the power goes out. I'd like to see someone take the green wall concept and modify it so that it has more structural support and requires less coddling. While they are still rare, green roofs are starting to show up on more and more buildings; how cool would it be if some of those buildings also had green walls?

Maybe I'm crazy, but what I'd like to see someday is green cities. The city would still be home to lots of people, and there'd still be roads and transit. But the "green spaces" wouldn't just be sidewalk trees and parks. The roofs would be green, the walls would be green. People would share habitat with more wild creatures then you currently see in a city. We could have both our high-tech world and our natural world, side by side. And with all that green, maybe we could do something positive for our planet instead of just stripping it barren.