Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Jan 31 -- Live the good life - Ditch your car

In case anyone missed the news yesterday, Exxon Mobile reported their fourth quarter net income at US$11 billion. Most notable about that is that this is the highest profit ever made by ANY company in ALL of US history. This leaves me cold on many levels.

I'm not usually one to weigh in on political issues -- not because I don't have opinions, but because I usually don't have solutions. Without solutions I think it's a waste of time to sit around complaining.

This however, is one issue on which I see a very obvious solution: ditching the car.

I've been a big fan of this a long time. I grew up in a semi-rural area where every kid had a car by age 16 because we had big spaces and no alternatives. But not long thereafter I lived in a series of places where options like train, bus, ferry (the beautiful Sydney ferry) and best of all foot were the norm. (interrupted by a brief stay in Dallas, which was impossible without a car). This culminated in 2 years in Paris, which must be the most walkable city in the world. My daily commute to my glassworking classes was 40 minutes on foot each direction - and once I got used to it, it was my biggest pleasure of the day. I turned on my tiny portable radio, watched passing people, saw the seasons change, watched shops open and close, leaves come and go, and felt the texture of the city.

And there's also hiking. I began hiking, in a true fashion, in California. I was a total hiking wimp until one summer when a friend of Marco's came and gave me no choice. At first six hours seemed like an unimaginably long hike, because nobody had ever told me to do that before. Then a two-day hike. Then I went up my first mountain (4000 meters) in 2003. The same year I did my first eleven-day hike (100 miles). The next year Marco and I crossed the Pyrenees on foot from France to Spain and did many more 2-5 day hikes. Now when I gear up with my backpack and my grungy and now very worn hiking boots I am excited, like getting together again with old, beloved friends.

For the past two months, however, I'm back at home, in a place just as dependent on the car as it was in childhood. I walk on occasion to Afton or in the forest. But apart from that I have to use the car, and I get no real other exercise. I feel rusty and mushy. This is the kind of situation that gives rise to the most ludicrous of American institutions -- the fitness gym. People expend energy (gasoline & electricity) and money on cars and appliances to create a physically effortless life. Then they get astounded that they're fat and in bad health. So, they drive to a gym and pay to use electrical equipment that expends their physical energy while producing absolutely nothing useful.

I don't find any pleasure in that. And I am not pleased with Exxon-Mobile raking a windfall on a car-dependent society. And it just so happens I am on the brink of moving to a new place, and establishing a new phase of my life. So it's a good time to make a long-term plan to ditch the car.

Marco and I are planning to move to the countryside somewhere outside of San Francisco. We are both in favor of towns (maybe Santa Cruz? Santa Rosa?) that allow us do things like grocery shopping and other errands on foot. Then I'm going to get us bikes (a recumbent bike just 'cause I like them) and see how much further we can go on bicycles. Can we do long cross country trips that way? Bike into downtown San Francisco? And I'm going to do everything I can to make my daily work commute 100% car-free. If there's a place in the US to try this, it's probably California right, even though it's still a car-dominated place.

But "wait wait", you say. "That's all well and good for someone who can afford that lifestyle, but what about people with geographic or economic constraints?"

Well I don't have a perfect answer for that. It's easier to change my habits than to change society. But here's a go:

If people who have the economic means to adopt a relatively car-free lifestyle do it successfully and with pleasure, that's naturally going to attract the interest of other less wealthy, middle-income-bracket people who are fed up with long commutes in traffic and high gas prices. These people, in turn, may maneuver to make changes in their own lives and finances that they wouldn't have considered before, such as also trying to move to towns with car-free possibilities. They may also petition for better pedestrian and bike options and in their own towns. They will succeed in getting these changes if there are already existing successful models that will convince pragmatic city planners and profit-oriented investors.

So models are key, a set of towns and communities showing people living happily on foot, on bike, on rollerblade are essential. One example, Boulder, Colorado, is already a hot model for city planners these days. If a number of communities are able to organize themselves in ways that highlight real, concrete benefits of a car-free structure in a way that's likeable and easy to understand, that's going to generate a wider interest that reaches into suburban crowds and crowds that haven't ever considered pedestrian or bike transportation. City planners will catch on and incorporate these goals into longer-term city plans that may even reach the lowest income neighborhoods. The more people who like these changes, the more they will further press for change.... a contagious and engaging spiral.

Welll, this all may be complete bullocks, as the Brits say, but it's an idea.

I just want to reduce use of fossil fuels, saves money, create a healthy happy body, bring us back in contact with the tactile, human side of our surroundings (i.e gets us out of the rolling glass and metal box on the freeway) and make life a little sweeter and a little more pleasurable. For all.

The most concrete way I know how to change society right now is to change my own tiny little piece of it.

If anyone's got anything to add, I'm open.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Jan 25 - In these Winter Lands

It's a beautiful sunny day today but it wasn't that way two nights ago. I had dinner at Cosetta's, a great Italian deli and eatery in downtown St. Paul with my dad that night. Driving home afterwards, out of the city, I decided to take the back country roads to get home. There was a crazy wind whipping up, and as I got out of the city the wind began to bring snow.

Big white snowflakes, lots of them, were blowing horizontally, and I was driving directly into the wind. That creates a great effect that anyone who has lived in a snowy land will know. In the dark night, with the headlights on, all the little points of white zoom at the car, giving a vertigo-like sensation of driving into a vortex (when I was a kid I said it was like the beginning of the Star Wars movies, where the stars rush towards the camera). Around me, visible through the dark of a countryside night, were snow-white fields and forests glowing with a dim chilled moonlight. The fields were in motion, with swirls of snow rushing and swirling in the wind. It was winter, a true Minnesota sensation. Though most of my life I have detested winter, at this moment it seemed exhilarating, snowy, cold, icy and wild. Something that will always impress and humble mankind, not the other way around.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Sign of the Day

- This one's for Shelley, who may remember this refreshing, appealing drink from storeshelves across Indonesia.
Pocari Sweat....it's body request!

Jan 19 - How can I forget Humuhumunukunukuapua'a?

My partner in mayhem, Bumbum, (writing from her island the middle of the Pacific) is right -- I forgot the longest common name for a fish humuhumunukunukuapua'a.

I can vouch for the existence of the humuhumunukunukuapua'a myself because I saw one, right in the water in front of me. I said "humuhumunukunukuapua'a how do you pronounce your name?" And he replied "humuhumunukunukuapua'A, with an emphasis on the "A". So, lesson learned.

In other news I've been passing my days in semi-rural Minnesota, at home with Mom. My big "getting out" activity has been walking to Afton, then on through the trees to the shore of the St. Croix River. For about a month weather was unusually warm here (thwarting, once again, my effort to convince Marco that it does get really, REALLY cold here). It's been so warm that the river, normally frozen solid from shore to shore this time of year, is open, blue and naked of ice. Last week there was a bright sun and sweeping wind, and the wind was pushing big iceberg-like chunks of ice up the river. The drifting ice made a fantastic splashy noise and the geese bobbed nearby on windy waves, looking pleased at all the open water (a big bonus for them in winter). Then a couple days later the ice was entirely gone. Normally, in January, it's frozen so thick that you can drive cars across it. Then we got another mild cold snap, and yesterday a thin, smooth glaze of ice began to spread across the river once again, causing the geese to congregate in an open hole in the middle, looking petulant.

Other than that I've been very productive at home. Since I've got little in the way of any outside activity, social or otherwise, I've channeled all my energies into planning my studio and making glass mosaics. I'm evaluating competing studios, finding suppliers, investigating financing, tweaking my website (soon to be up I think), crafting my image and planning what kind of works I want to create. My secret recipe, so to speak, will be the combination of traditional craftsmanship with modern design. I want to make stuff in glass that nobody else is doing, stuff that's really current, like creating glass mosaics and stained glass panels based on Japanese fabrics, 1940s product packaging, or contemporary graphic design, to name a few. My first line of panels, all made on salvaged windows from old homes, are glass mosaics based on botanical fabric prints.

Sometimes in the morning I chat on MSN messenger with Marco. His job search is progressing in a nice fashion so perhaps he will make it to the California by March!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Jan 9 - When length DOES matter...

Here's another funny question -- what is the world's longest word?

Marco sent me email today where he wondered if the longest word in the world was Kapitalbeteiligungsgesellschaften, which weighs in at 33 letters. That got me curious so I looked up the issue on the internet.

Here's what I found:

Antidisestablishmentarianism is often the word that people claim as the longest word in the English language. But it's not really the longest word. Identifying the longest word is tricky, because one has to decide if chemical words should be allowed, or place names, which really rack up some letters.

According to fun-with-words.com , the top 5 longest words in the english language are:

(45) PNEUMONO­ULTRA­MICRO­SCOPIC­SILICO­VOLCANO­CONIOSIS (also spelled PNEUMONO­ULTRA­MICRO­SCOPIC­SILICO­VOLCANO­KONIOSIS) = a lung disease caused by breathing in particles of siliceous volcanic dust.This is the longest word in any English dictionary. However, it was coined by Everett Smith, the President of The National Puzzlers' League, in 1935 purely for the purpose of inventing a new "longest word". The Oxford English Dictionary described the word as factitious. Nevertheless it also appears in the Webster's, Random House, and Chambers dictionaries.

(37) HEPATICO­CHOLANGIO­CHOLECYST­ENTERO­STOMIES = a surgical creation of a connection between the gall bladder and a hepatic duct and between the intestine and the gall bladder.This is the longest word in Gould's Medical Dictionary.

(34) SUPER­CALI­FRAGI­LISTIC­EXPI­ALI­DOCIOUS = song title from the Walt Disney movie Mary Poppins. It is in the Oxford English Dictionary. The lyrics say:

"But then one day I learned a word
That saved me achin' nose,
The biggest word you ever 'eard,
And this is 'ow it goes:

(30) HIPPOPOTO­MONSTRO­SESQUIPED­AL­IAN = pertaining to a very long word. From Mrs. Byrne's Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure and Preposterous Words.

(29) FLOCCI­NAUCINI­HILIPIL­IFICATION = an estimation of something as worthless. This is the longest word in the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. Interestingly the most common letter in English, E, does not appear in this word at all, whilst I occurs a total of nine times. The word dates back to 1741. The 1992 Guinness Book of World Records calls flocci­nauci­nihili­pilification the longest real word in the Oxford English Dictionary, and refers to pneumono­ultra­micro­scopic­silico­volcano­koniosis as the longest made-up one.

If you want to count chemical terms, the longest known word is:


This word has appeared in the American Chemical Society's Chemical Abstracts and is thus considered by some to be the longest real word.

And here's a fun part -- the longest place names:

(85) TAUMATA­WHAKA­TANGI­HANGA­KOAUAU­O­TAMATEA­TURIPUKAKA­PIKI­MAUNGA­HORO­NUKU­POKAI­WHENUA­KITANA­TAHUA hill in New Zealand. This Maori name was in general use, but is now generally abbreviated to Taumata. The name means: the summit of the hill, where Tamatea, who is known as the land eater, slid down, climbed up and swallowed mountains, played on his nose flute to his loved one.

(66) GORSA­FAWDDACH­AIDRAIGODAN­HEDDO­GLEDDOLON­PENRHYN­AREUR­DRAETH­CEREDIGION A town in Wales. The name means: the Mawddach station and its dragon teeth at the Northern Penrhyn Road on the golden beach of Cardigan bay.

(58) LLAN­FAIR­PWLL­GWYN­GYLL­GOGERY­CHWYRN­DROBWLL­LLANTY­SILIO­GOGO­GOCH A town in North Wales. The name roughly translates as: St. Mary's Church in the hollow of the white hazel near to the rapid whirlpool of Llantysilio of the red cave. It is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.

(41) CHAR­GOGAGOG­MAN­CHAR­GOGAGOG­CHAR­BUNA­GUNGAMOG Another name for Lake Webster in Massachusetts. Probably the longest name in the United States.

As for other languages in the world, I don't know what the longest words are. Anybody out there care to guess?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Jan 5 2006 -- Happy New Year!

Well Happy New Year everyone!

I haven't written for awhile. This time it's because Marco was here visiting me so I wasn't going to waste time fussing around with web pages and email. It was nice! Marco and I made the most of these gray days of Midwestern winter - we snowshoed around home and at Afton State Park. We ice-skated in downtown Minneapolis at the pretty Depot Station (renovated from an old train depot). We tried to go cross country skiing but failed to rent skis. And to warm up we cooked ourselves steaming mugs of hot spiced wine.

Marco and I spent New Years Eve with John, who is Mom's, shall we say, gentleman friend. While Mom was basking in the sun and visiting her best childhood friend in Hawaii (coincidentally much like I did only three weeks ago), John took us out on the town all week to rockin' places like Nye's Polonaise Room, the Times, the Loring Pasta Bar and Lee's Liquor Lounge. So in return we got out the fancy crystal, made him a nice New Years Eve dinner, and set off fireworks at midnight. We told him to dress up for the evening (which for us was a nice shirt), and he came downstairs in a full tuxedo! Yes! Gotta like that! John's gotta be the funnest medicare-age guy I know.

This morning Marco and I had one more big hearty American breakfast (eggs, bacon, hash browns, toast, juice and coffee .... mmmm) at Dick's Bar in Hudson (a pretty fun place nowadays, only mildly divey), then I drove him to the airport. He'll be back in Paris for two or three more months until he moves here to the US. Tu me manque Hibou! After dropping him off I went and got a couple design magazines and two books about starting a small business, all to help me set up my studio and think up new designs. It's back to work and I plan to work my ass off for the next couple weeks.