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Monday, December 31, 2007
 Mapmaking for the Masses 
In the article Mapmaking for the Masses in Science Daily there's a reference to a paper by Michael Goodchild, whom I met while working at the USGS, and it mentions two mapping programs that allow user-generated content creation, WikiMapia and Open Street Map. Along with the Google Maps My Maps feature, there are lot's of mapmaking choices out there.

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The ASUS Eee PC is a very basic, light, small laptop that doesn't do much, but to me it's the ideal traveling laptop. It has wireless access and several basic applications for Web browsing, email, music, video, and it even has a camera. It's very rugged, with a solid-state 4GB hard disk. While 512KB of memory is minuscule, with a basic Linux OS, it should be enough for most travel commuter needs. It looks like an ideal travel computer.

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Sunday, December 30, 2007
 Sub-prime loan graphics 
There are some sobering graphics at BBC News online showing the extent of the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

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Friday, December 28, 2007
 Museum hopping 
Yesterday I rode into DC to visit the National Building Museum and the American Art Museum. I had planned to spend some time at the Corcoran Gallery to see the Ansel Adams and Annie Leibovitz shows but ran out of time. The David Macaulay exhibit at the Building Museum, mentioned in an earlier post, did not disappoint. I especially enjoyed the large reproductions of his sketchbooks used in researching his various book projects. In a short film he explains why it's so important to draw; to really SEE what is around us and that drawing is a form of meditation. The gift shop has an extensive selection of books on architecture and drawing, among others.

Seeing the Great Hall inside building makes visiting the museum worthwhile.
An ingenious system of windows, vents, and open archways allows the Great Hall to function as a reservoir of light and air. The impressive Italian Renaissance design, with a central fountain and eight colossal Corinthian columns – among the tallest interior columns in the world – has also made the Great Hall a sought-after spot for gala events, including many Presidential Inaugural Balls, from 1885 to the present day.
Experience the Great Hall through a virtual tour.

After lunch in the Great Hall I rode two blocks to the National Portrait Gallery/American Art Museum, another architecturally interesting building that once housed the National Patent Office, the National Gallery, and the Interior Department. In 1953 the building was to be torn down and replaced with a parking lot and was saved by legislation signed by Eisenhower. The building was closed for 6 years of renovation, including the placement of a covering over the formerly open interior courtyard.

I mostly wanted to see the exhibit “John Alexander: A Retrospective” that opened recently. I had never heard of the artist but since I was in the neighborhood I wanted to check out the show. What a revelation. He's a superb draftsman who's early work is very abstract while retaining some symbolic elements. His more recent work is realistic, much of it devoted to natural objects such as flowers and birds drawn exquisitely.
The exhibition encompasses works from the late 1970s to the present. It includes powerful landscapes and intimate studies of birds and plants; it also presents many of his incisive, satirical commentaries on politics, religion and the human condition.
Here is a sample of his work from artnet.com.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007
 National Building Museum 

I plan to visit the National Building Museum which is featuring an exhibit entitled David Macaulay: The Art of Drawing Architecture. There's a good video on the museum website of Macaulay drawing a portion of the museum during The Big Draw event held there last summer. I particularly like his demonstration of the use of single point perspective. I've always used the concept in my drawings, but never in such a simple, practical way.

The Big Draw is a group drawing event originated by the Campaign for Drawing in the United Kingdom. The purpose is “to get everyone drawing”. Last October there were 1,000 events throughout Britain where 350,000 people participated. What a great idea.

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 Radiohead widget 

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 Radiohead live New Years Eve 
While checking out The Daily Swarm, a music news site that was featured in the Dec 2007 Wired magazine, I happened across this reference to a live Radiohead performance of their newest recording, In Rainbows. It will be featured on Current TV, which according to Wikipedia, is an “independent media company led by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.” Too bad I'll be cleaning up after the dance association New Years Eve dance until way past midnight. Maybe the concert will be delayed he says hopefully.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007
 Angelina and Brad on bikes 
They were on an outing in New Orleans, riding bikes, one with a trailer and the other with a child's seat. Bike on.

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Saturday, December 22, 2007
 How to Cook Everything Vegetarian 
It's been a slow Saturday. After getting up late; well one of us got up late, the other couldn't sleep and got up to cook steel cut oatmeal for the first time; very good, nuttier and chewier than regular oatmeal but it takes 30 minutes to cook on top of the stove. Got to figure out a faster way, probably by soaking overnight. Anyway we decided to bike over to the floor store to look at new vinyl flooring for the bathroom.

Afterwards we vegged out by flipping channels on tv and came across a PBS cooking show by Mark Bittman, How to Cook Everything. Apparently he's a famous chef, known as The Minimalist who wrote the book How to Cook Everything which is described as a hipper Joy of Cooking, which was one of my favorite non-vegetarian cookbooks (I now see that there is a vegetarian book in the Joy series, Joy of Cooking: All About Vegetarian. Will have to check it out).

We happened across the How to Cook Everything show with an interesting segment on cooking rice in different cultures. From watching the risotto demonstration, it appears I've been cooking mine incorrectly, stirring way too often, causing the rice to break and lose texture. Later I was clicking through my links for the latest news, etc. and happened across the Sierra Club blog the Compass and lo and behold there was an entry on a new vegetarian cookbook by Bittman, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.
...the days of all-meat-all-the-time (or, to be slightly less extreme, of a diet heavily dependent on meat) could not go on. Averaging a consumption of two pounds a week or more of meat (as Americans do) is not sustainable...

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 Human-powered supercomputer 
“A new world record in human powered computing has been set by MIT students who used bicycles to power one of the institute’s supercomputers for 20 minutes. As part of the ‘Innovate or Die’ pedal-powered machine contest a nuclear fusion reaction was modelled by the sweat of the students’ brows.”

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 Found bike blogs 
Here's an interesting Bike Friday tikit blog written by the Lazy Randonneur who has a link to a Paris Brest Paris blog. Thanks to Crazy Biker Chic for pointing out the recumbent entry on Lazy Randonneur.

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Friday, December 21, 2007
 Faraday cage 
Yesterday I mentioned the Helicopter High Voltage Cable Inspector video in which the concept of a Faraday cage is explained. It was the first time I ever remember hearing the term. What are the chances that later that day, while pondering the energy use of a microwave oven, I would come across the term again? According the Wikipedia article on microwave ovens:
The cooking chamber itself is a Faraday cage enclosure which prevents the microwaves from escaping into the environment.
Microwaves do use a lot of energy (about 800 watts for a small home unit), but for rather short periods of time, and given the alternative, cooking for a long time in an oven, their use can be considered relatively efficient. Here's a link to a New York Times article on use of energy in the home, Is the TV Off? No, It’s Really on Standby, Using Current that mentions the high energy usage of microwave ovens, and here's a response to that article, Overcooked myths: microwave ovens and home energy use. One of my favorite environnmental organizations, the Rocky Mountain Institute, has produced a series of Home Energy Briefs with info on home appliances, among others.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007
 Helicopter High Voltage Cable Inspector 
I've been fascinated by the video of a power line inspector entitled Helicopter High Voltage Cable Inspector. I watched it a while back and ever since I think it about it every once in a while.
“If you enclose a man in a metal cage and energize that cage, at whatever voltage, the man would still live. The voltage would flow around him. I wear a hot suit. It's 75% Nomex fire retardant and 25% stainless steel thread. That metal thread means I have a Faraday Cage around me. A half a million volts pass over my body but I can work without interference from the electricity.”
Tip of the hat to Kottke.

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 VDOT does it again 
I am a member of the Tysons Corner Land Use Task Force, a group that is working to update the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan for the Tysons Corner area. Tysons is a typical suburban office park area and the location of two large shopping malls. It is the prototypical Edge City as described by Washington Post reporter Joel Garreau in his book Edge City, Live on the New Frontier. As an aside, I was surprised to learn that the term Edge City was first used in Tom Wolfe's book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

As is common knowledge now, a grid of streets can play a critical role in the life of a city. It allows many ways for people to get around and helps create interesting walking areas with lots of corners for restaurants and other gathering places. Tysons does not have a grid of streets, which is why it will be one of the suggestions that the task force will propose. Two state highways run through the center of Tysons, and now VDOT is proposing new standards and regulations that will limit the number of access points on state highways, that will limit the ability to create a tight street grid.

Fairfax County officials objected:
Fairfax County has several urban design initiatives underway and planned transit-oriented development areas that will require context sensitive approaches to street design. Flexibility will be needed on some requirements for localities to achieve their planning objectives.
VDOT's response:
The appeal/exception process can be used for consideration of these approaches to street design.
In other words, we're going to create a new regulation that we know will require Fairfax, in order to create livable, walkable communities around transit stations, to apply for a waiver.

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Monday, December 17, 2007
A while back I started to notice the frequent use of the word “transparent” to refer to a visible and open process. Now that I've noticed it, I hear the word nearly every day.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007
 UPS driver routing to eliminate left turns 
If we all were able to route our trips the way UPS does we might be better off. According to the NY Times article Left-Hand-Turn Elimination
The company employs what it calls a “package flow” software program, which among other hyperefficient practices involving the packing and sorting of its cargo, maps out routes for every one of its drivers, drastically reducing the number of left-hand turns they make (taking into consideration, of course, those instances where not to make the left-hand turn would result in a ridiculously circuitous route).

Last year, according to Heather Robinson, a U.P.S. spokeswoman, the software helped the company shave 28.5 million miles off its delivery routes, which has resulted in savings of roughly three million gallons of gas and has reduced CO2 emissions by 31,000 metric tons. So what can Brown do for you? We can’t speak to how good or bad they are in the parcel-delivery world, but they won’t be clogging up the left-hand lane while they do their business.

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 Cool Counties 
The goal of the Fairfax Cool Counties Workgroup is to suggest ways for county residents and businesses to save energy and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The following are various references on this topic.
AIRE—Arlington Initiative to Reduce Emissions, including tips for businesses and residents.
Carbon Footprint—Measure your carbon footprint at An Inconvenient Truth website. Link to calculations page.
Carbon Footprint 2—From the Vermont Earth Institute. Includes equations for calculations.
Carbon Footprint 3—From The Nature Conservancy, includes equation info and includes food choices and recycling.
Carbon Footprint 4—From The Climate Trust. Options for offsetting carbon emissions.
Carbon Footprint 5—Conservation International calculator.
Carbon Footprint 6—CarbonFund.org that includes U.S. averages next to each variable.
Consumer's Guide to Energy Efficiency—Good information on turning lights on and off.
Electrical Consumption by Use—Table of household energy use in U.S. in 2001.
Earth Day Footprint Quiz—My footprint is 20 acres and if everyone were like me we would need 4.5 planets.
Energy Fact Sheets—from DOE, good residential fact sheets.
Energy Saving Tips from Dominion Power—A good collection of suggestions for reducing energy use.
Energy Star Home Energy Yardstick—By entering info from utility bills, “compare your home's energy efficiency to similar homes across the country and get recommendations for energy-saving home improvements from ENERGY STAR”
Energy Star Guide to Home Sealing—Good color illustrations and practical info on sealing air leaks in a house.
Energy Tips—from the National Wildlife Federation. Includes an option to purchase carbon offsets. Also includes a Green Calculator.
Energy Use of Common Appliances—Part of a FAQ on time of energy use.
Home Energy Saver—Do-it-yourself energy audit tool, sponsored by the U.S. Dept. of Energy.
Greenhouse Gas Inventory—EPA list of sources and sinks from 1990-2004.
Home Energy Saver Answer Desk—FAQ with energy data and savings tips.
Household Greenhouse Gas Emissions—Table of emissions by source, produced by Rocky Mountain Insitute.
Household Solutions—Detailed info on how to save energy in the home. One of several Rocky Mountain Institute carbon fact sheets.
Playbook for Green Neighborhoods—Guidelines to Learn, Plan, and Act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Save Energy in Schools—General tips for schools.
RMI Home Energy Briefs—guides describing what the average homeowner can do to save energy.
Yahoo Green—Concrete steps to reduce emissions, showing effects of each.

Sources and Trends

Reducing U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions: How Much and at What Cost?—Summary of historic GHG trends and cost of reduction of various sources. Produced by McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm.
Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the United States 2005—Summary of GHG and their sources as of 2005. Produced by DOE Energy Information Administration.


America's 50 Greenest Cities—From Popular Science Magazine, includes the City of Alexandria.
Nine Cities, Nine Ideas—Ideas from nine cities on ways to reduce energy use.
Green Bikes Program—at St. Lawrence University in northern New York state. Checked out using library card.
RESNET—The Residential Energy Services Network, sets national standards for building energy efficiency rating systems.

Energy Audit Companies

CGE Solutions—Building Performance Consulting. Conduct home energy audits and training classes for energy auditors (outline of course.)
EMO Energy Solutions—Energy Efficiency & Sustainable Design Consulting.

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Friday, December 07, 2007
 Starbucks caffeine table 
After a little searching I found a table showing caffeine in Starbucks drinks.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007
I'm currently reading Ulysses by James Joyce. I've had an old Modern Library hardcopy version lying around for a while. The other day I was trying to find room on my bookshelves by selecting books to be sold or given away when I came across it again. At around the same time I read an article about Joyce's grandson, Stephen Joyce, who controls the James Joyce estate and who seems to relish giving Joyce academics a hard time. He thinks people can read Joyce's works without the annotated texts or extensive analysis. Joyce's work has spawned a small industry in academia and Stephen is doing what he can to try to control it.

So I picked up the book and started reading. And guess what, I couldn't figure out what was going on and remembered why it was I had stopped reading after the first few pages few years ago. I slogged on, not understand much of what I read, skipping a few longer paragraphs along the way. I read a bit about the book in wikipedia and The Literature Network and started to understand a bit more about the events taking place in the novel. Probably the most helpful was from the later:
Among other things, a novel is simply a long story, and the first question about any story is: What happens?. In the case of Ulysses, the answer might be Everything. William Blake, one of literature's sublime myopics, saw the universe in a grain of sand. Joyce saw it in Dublin, Ireland, on June 16, 1904, a day distinguished by its utter normality. Two characters, Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, go about their separate business, crossing paths with a gallery of indelible Dubliners. We watch them teach, eat, stroll the streets, argue, and (in Bloom's case) masturbate. And thanks to the book's stream-of-consciousness technique--which suggests no mere stream but an impossibly deep, swift-running river--we're privy to their thoughts, emotions, and memories. The result? Almost every variety of human experience is crammed into the accordian folds of a single day, which makes Ulysses not just an experimental work but the very last word in realism.
After the first 100 pages or so I'm starting to get into it. Wish me luck.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007
There's no excuse for the lack of posts lately, now that I'm "freelancing", a creative term someone used recently to describe those of us without steady work. After leaving the bike shop last month I've managed to get by on savings and a few unusual work opportunities: publishing an article in the Washington Post, With Hot Lanes Must Come Bike Lanes for which I was paid $75. I also participated in a web site usability study, collecting another $100. Then there was the textbook publisher who wanted to use a photo taken in 2000 along the Icefields Parkway during a bike tour from Banff to Jasper. That earned another $100.

Anyway, there should be plenty of time to post but there is always the internal pressure to do something "productive" when not working, and blogging doesn't usually qualify. You need to be unemployed to understand. So the bathroom gets painted, advocacy letters get written, and other volunteer activities take the rest of the time. Better get back to checking out jobs and gigs on craigslist...

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 Biking Bis 
By way of the BikeWashington Yahoo Group, I recently discovered Biking Bis, a bicycling blog by a cycle tourist who lives in the Northwest. He posts on a regular basis about bicycle touring and related news and info. That's where I learned that the team George Hincapie signed with after leaving Discovery, T-Mobile, decided not to sponsor a team next year. Bis also reports that the Race Across America (RAAM) will finish in Annapolis next year, around the middle of June.

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