Dave Sohigian

18May/080

Trip to Lair Hill Market

We don't have a grocery store in our neighborhood, but we do have a couple great Cafe's. one is the Old Lair Hill Market, and that is where we headed yesterday for dinner. We had a nice time having dinner and enjoying the sounds of the city. It's a great time to be in Portland.
 
Lair Hill Market
Lair Hill Market
After dinner we strolled down to the 7-11 (closest thing to a grocery store, YUCK!) and got some ice cream for dessert. Then a slow walk back home to enjoy desser.
Walking home from Lair Hill Market

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18May/080

90+ in Portland: Freezie Time!

We have some HOT weather today here in Portland:
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Around our place that means frozen treats. We like to go the low sugar approach (at least some of the time) so we freeze bananas and mangoes and then run them through a Champion Juicer:
Champion Juicer
The result is a cold and delicious treat with the smoothest texture you can imagine:
Mango and Banana "Freezie"
Yum!

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16May/080

Bridges and Democracy

One of the big local issues here in Portland recently has been the Columbia River Crossing (CRC). There is currently a proposal to spend about $4 billion dollars on a new bridge across the Columbia River for I-5 freeway. This freeway carries traffic from Seattle down through Portland on it's to (and through) California. Portland sits right at the border of Washington and Oregon, so the bridge is the responsibility of both States as well as the Feds. It is a huge project, and a controversial one.
DraftConcept_ExistingConditions.jpg
DraftConcept_ReplacementwithBRTorLRT.jpg
A few days ago I sent a form letter from this site to my local reps (in both Oregon and Washington) to let them know that I was opposed the the general idea of replacing the bridge. I got two responses, both from councilors in Vancouver, WA (just across the river from Portland). Pat Campbell responded to the form letter by asking if I had more specific recommendations. I sent this in response:

Pat,

Thank you for responding personally to my note. My view is that we need to reduce the amount of auto traffic around the region, and that includes between Vancouver and Portland. The decisions about the CRC will dramatically affect the choices that individuals make in where they live, where they work, where their kids go to school and how they get between all of these places. Reducing auto congestion on the CRC will encourage more driving, more suburban sprawl and separation of community. We need to encourage people to live near where they work, or to use means other than personal autos to get to where they need to go. Making public transport, biking, walking and carpooling the default choice for getting around our region should be the goal. It won't be easy, or cheap, because of the big cultural shift required, but I know that our region is up to the task.

The system we have today, which relies on personal autos to keep our economy healthy, has served us well for many years. But it cannot continue to scale. High gas prices and home foreclosures are the symptoms of a longer term shift that we need to be aware of in our planning. More of the same just won't serve us in the long term.

My family is lucky enough to live near our children's school and my work. To us, it feels like a luxury to be able to get around by public transport, bike and foot. It is a luxury that we would like more people to be able to afford, but for most, it is out of reach. Projects like the CRC keep this luxury out of reach by encouraging unsustainable practices. Increased auto traffic means developers are encouraged to build further out. It means that business are encouraged to hire from further off. It means that centralized shopping dominates.

My specific suggestions for the CRC would be for a plan that reduces the amount of lanes available for personal autos and dramatically increases flow of public transport and bike options. Make the public transport options as fast or faster than personal auto and people will get out of their cars. Express service from between downtown Vancouver and downtown Portland would be a crucial piece of the puzzle. This may all sound a little far-fetched right now, but the long-term future of our region depends on these important choices. The future will not look like today but only bigger. The future will be fundamentally different.

Thank you, and keep up the good work.

Sincerely,

Dave Sohigian

The next day Pat wrote back with:

Dave,
Thanks. You make a lot of good points. Maybe we are about to have that cultural shift you note. This is something I've been thinking about as well. The CRC started their work when gas prices were relatively cheap and the situation is now markedly different.

Sprawl as you note has severe downsides. Now with the vastly increased costs of oil based energy and oil based products from PVC pipe to asphalt, even maintaining the structures we have is challenging government budgets. Eventually, are we going to see the deconstruction of our sprawled out suburbs and denser patterns of urban growth?

In a meeting yesterday evening in Portland of the Metro Policy Advisory Committee, it was pointed out that the cost to the government (taxpayer subsidies) of a home out is the suburb fringe is now $90,000 compared to a $50,000 for a similar home in an urban setting. My guess is that the larger figure over time is becoming much higher.

I appreciate your input Dave and will share it with the Council.
Sincerely,
Pat Campbell

I was impressed. Not only did he read his email, respond to what was clearly a form letter campaign, but he read my message and thoughtfully responded to it. This is particularly impressive given that the Vancouver City Council has been a major force in pushing the CRC because it would mean so much for their city's economy.

What I found particularly interesting about his message was the comment about the taxpayer subsidies of $90K for homes in the "suburb fringe" vs. $50K in the city. This is stunning. I think many people, families in particular, move to the 'burbs because they get "more for their money". The reality is that they are getting more for OUR money!

The moral of this story, for me, is that letter writing can work. I plan on re-sending my more personal message to the other city officials (in Portland and the Metro area) who have influence over the CRC. I encourage others to do the same, but be sure to use your own subject and words in the message. They are probably already tired of reading the same message repeated over and over.

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14May/080

Crazy Bike Messengers

I am a pretty conservative biker. When my kids are in tow I definitely stick with the bike lanes and take low volume streets. When I am on my own in Downtown Portland I do like to take 4th or 6th and ride downhill with traffic (or between it if it is gridlocked). Although I definitely don't ride like a bike messenger, I still appreciate the crazy folks who do. I just found these videos of some guys doing some crazy riding in various cities around the world. Scary, dangerous and maybe a little stupid, but way fun to watch.
Bike Videos | LUCAS BRUNELLE PRODUCTIONS
The one of New York is particularly insane:

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14May/082

Economic Localization: The business opportunity

A few days ago I was thinking about how the economy seems to be shifting. I have been reading "Shock Doctrine" by Naomi Klien and "The World Is Flat" by Thomas Friedman, which are good companions to each other. Each describes the effects of globalization on society, one is optimistic (Friedman) the other pessimistic (Klein). My opinion falls somewhere between Klein and Friedman's. I see the overwhelming power of the corporation as inevitable and not something that governments can hope to control (pessimist). But I also see that there are other forces that will hold corporations in check and make them more responsive to the real needs of people (optimist).
Image:Hubbert peak oil plot.svg
There are lots of sites that talk about Peak oil and the chaos that will result after we reach this peak. I have never been a doom-and-gloom sort of guy, but I do recognize that the supply of petroleum is limited and that eventually our dependence on it must change. The current trend towards further globalization ignores this reality. As a planet we are doing very little to prepare for this future that we all know is coming (even though there are big arguments about how quickly it will get here).
There is a meme called "relocalization" which focuses on making communities more self-sustainable "based on the local production local production of local production of food, energy and goods". I think this is an important effort whether you consider global warming, peak oil or just the commercialization of society to be a problem.
*** Disclaimer: I am going to use bikes to illustrate my idea. I don't think the actual example that I give is the important thing, it is just a way to get the concept across ***
Which brings me to the thought process I was having a few days ago. Our family tries to buy local when possible, and because we live in a fertile area, it is possible to buy lots of our food that way. We even manage to get some of our energy from local sources, through green power and using local biodiesel to heat our home. But when it comes to goods, the challenge is a lot bigger, even in an eco-friendly town like Portland, OR.
Familytandem
For example, we purchased a tandem bicycle recently from Bike Friday, in Eugene, OR. The bike is great, and was produced just 100 miles from our home. The problem is that most of the raw materials that went into the bike are not local. I don't know where the steel for the frame, rubber for the tires, plastic for the bottle holders, etc.. all came from, but I doubt it is from within the state of Oregon. This is not news to anyone who pays attention to how things are produced in our industrialized society. But I think there is a way to get the benefits of globalization and relocalization together.

(photo credit: Jonathan Maus, BikePortland.org)
To make this point, I will give another "bikey" example. There is a maker of bikes in Holland called "Bakfiet". They have a unique style of cargo bike that has a cargo bucket in front of the driver. It is a novel design that gives you lots of options for getting around town. The bike are expensive but well made. But, for someone living in the States, they are definitely not locally produced.
Which brings me to the relocalization part. A couple of guys here in Portland are trying to build their own version of at Bakfiet, called a "Metrofiet". Bike Portland did an article about Metrofiet a while back.There is some controversy about the bikes because they copy the design of the Bakfiet so directly. Some people seem excited to have a local option and others are appalled at them for stealing the product design.

(photo credit: Jonathan Maus, BikePortland.org)
There is a fairly simple solution, which would be for Metrofiet to license the design of the bike from Bakfiet. Then they could both make money off the bike AND we could have a locally produced option. But there would still be the problem of the raw materials coming from all over the world.
This is where the intersection of globalization and relocalization comes in. To make a truly local bike, we would have to consider using other raw materials that are local. For example, we have lots of trees around here. And we even have a local manufacturer making bikes out of wood (Bike Portland has a great article on the company). Are there alternative materials for other parts of the bike as well? I have no idea, but I certainly think it is possible. That's the relocalization part. The globalization part is the knowledge required to accomplish this relocalization.
If we can combine our knowledge of local raw materials with local manufacturing and global design, then we can have local goods that use the best possible designs. I realize this is not a simple problem because you can't divorce design from raw materials. But allowing creating a global market for design means you take advantage of the intelligence of the world while not requiring massive energy consumption.
The title mentions a business opportunity. The way I see it there is a huge opportunity for companies that can manufacture things locally, using local resources. Manufacturing companies that have a deep knowledge of the local raw materials as well as a way to outsource designs for products will have a bright future. If you combine that sort of capability with the globalized design (meaning designs that are created, and licensed, from all over the world), then you are taking the best of both worlds. Imagine a database where you could look up designs for "human powered transport" based on the raw materials and manufacturing processes you have locally. Oregon might have a lot of raw materials common to other places with similar climates, and therefore could use and share designs with those areas. But the manufacturing and raw materials would all be local.
Manufacturers could become much more general, while designs become much more specific. Instead of shipping raw materials all over the place and then shipping finished goods around as well, only the IDEAS and DESIGNS would move around.
Is this sort of thing possible today? Probably not. But I see a big future for the companies that can make it happen, both on the manufacturing and design side.

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9May/080

Anna at the May Day Celebration

Burk Jackson, of bulb studio took some great shots of Anna at the recent May Day celebration at Cedarwood School. Thanks Burk!

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9May/080

Crowdsourced Tagging of Archival Photos

OnTheCommons.org has an interesting article about the tagging of archival photos from the Flickr Commons project.

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6May/080

Clearspring Widgets

Over the weekend at Portland Barcamp I attended a session by Justin Thorp from Clearspring called "Death of the Website and Rise of the Widget" . Although Justin admitted that the title of his talk was mainly meant to provoke people to attend, it was a worthwhile session. I have created a few igoogle and netvibes widgets recently, and his company is working towards the Holy Grail of widgets: making it possible to develop a widget that will run on any platform. The netvibes widgets I have made run on several platforms, but Clearspring widgets supposedly run on 26 different platforms.

I have already noticed some strange behavior of the widgets I have created depending on the platform they are running on. I am curious to port one of them to Clearspring and see how it functions. Justin said that you can get a Clearspring widget listed in the various widget/gadget catalogs as well. This has been an issue with Netvibes: I can't list my Netvibes widgets in iGoogle for instance.

The discussion in the session seemed to focus mainly around RSS vs. Widgets. In some ways it is a silly comparison, but several people had the concern that widgets would eventually be used in favor of RSS. This could lead to problems since widgets are typically branded and their look/feel is controlled by the author. RSS on the other hand is pretty much pure information. There is, of course, a place for both. If you want interactivity then RSS doesn't have much to offer. But aggregating widgets is a challenge. They are both used to offer chunks of functionality from a site or application and in many ways are complimentary.

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26Apr/080

Day around Portland

We had a great day out on the town today, taking the Streetcar, bus and Max to get around. We started out at Powell's City of Books (a perennial favorite with our family). From there we headed to Kenny and Zuke's Deli, which has this sign out front:

Kenny and Zuke's Deli

Caleb and Anna's cousin, Nuri, was visiting from Walla, Walla and we ran into his aunt at the deli. The place is very Portland, and even though the place was packed with people there were still parking spaces out front (although no room for more bikes!).
The kids had bagel's and lox for lunch.


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Then it was on to the Saturday Market where the kids did a bit of busking and watched some great street bucket drumming:

The weather was clear and cool, a perfect day for making our way around town.


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25Apr/080

OpenID Enabled

Per Silicon Florist's recc, I have added OpenID to my WordPress install.

[update: had to remove openid temporarily. Seemed to be causing an issue with my admin interface. Will troubleshoot this weekend]

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