Sunday, April 27, 2008

a few pictures

I don't have much to say. OK, you probably don't believe that, and you shouldn't, but I don't have time, so I'm going to post a couple of pictures and let us all move on wit our lives.
This was from a hike that we did in Zion's. Truth be known, we didn't take many pictures with the digital camera. We used the film camera so it will take a little patience to get those back.
Why is he always scowling? It looks like he's getting ready to be happy, but he seems suspicious about life, unsure of what is coming up next.
Don't ask. I don't have the answer. I do sort of like the picture though.
Someone has decided that he wants to be a cook. This was a noodle concoction that included various vegetables and bread. The bread was the only weird thing in this one. The dish with the squash and eggs wasn't very good. The soup with orange peel, raisins, rice and various other things was borderlining on disgusting... Truth be known, I didn't have any, but not even the creator would eat it.
I only hope that he never becomes a teenager. With a smile and look like that we may need a bat to keep the girls away.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Back from Camping

I just want to say that I have the most amazing wife EVER! I was extremely stressed about finals and my upcoming comprehensive exams. My wife wanted to go camping, but I don't have any good breaks during the summer with my teaching schedule and the research that I should start over the summer. So the result is that I was wondering if we were going to go. I owed it to my wife and family to spend at least a little time with them before I get in over my head with a dissertation to write. So early last week I took a look at my schedule and decided that I had from Friday to Monday that I could take a break. I didn't have time to plan anything or make any sort of arrangements, I just had time when I didn't have to be at school. I told my wife and she planned one of the best vacations I have ever been on.

So what made this vacation special? There were a few things that really made this trip special. First of all and most importantly, I was with my family. It was just the five of us and we had lots of time to spend together. All activities involved all family members (except for a little spelunking that was beyond the physical ability levels of the younger two kids). The second thing that really made things special is an ideal that I've always had, but never really been able to live. I did not have a watch all vacation, and it never mattered. When we were hungry we ate. When it got dark we went to sleep. When the sun came up, we woke up. I don't know what 'time' it was. I did keep track of the day so that I could get back to school for my appointment this afternoon (oh the irony). The final thing that really made the trip special was that we had nothing to do. Not only did it not matter what time it was, but we had nothing planned. We had reservations (thanks to my wife who planned the whole thing at the last minute) at a couple of state parks, but we had no plans. We arrived with a variety of options and we chose. We didn't spend time arguing or planning, we decided, "we want to go find hidden canyon in Zion's" and we went and looked for it (it's not accessible to young children FYI, but echo canyon is and it's not far from there).

While my children were not perfectly behaved, it was great to spend that much time with them. It has been too long since I've spent every waking hour with them for several days. I look forward to doing it again.

The only reason this whole thing happened is because my wife put it all together. While I liked the spontaneity of it, my wife did a considerable amount of planning at the last minute to make sure that we weren't driving aimlessly looking for a place to put up a tent. I've said it before and I'll never stop saying it, "My wife is AMAZING!".

I also got to think a little about education. I think my boys learned more during our vacation than they would at most schools. We looked at things, we thought about things, we let the older boy lead us on hikes and see if he could find his way back. It was a wonderful experience and I hope a great learning experience for the boys.

I watched a couple videos on TED earlier today about education. One guy talked about what he thought should be done to improve education. He suggested that we get computers OUT of the classroom. Kids are forgetting (or not learning) how to think. This man then used a couple of things he had on stage to come up with some measurements and calculate the speed of sound (math done with a slide rule).

Then I came across a guy who had five things that every kid should do. On the list were playing with fire, playing with knives, pirating music from the Internet and driving a car. While his ideas sound dangerous at face value, I would argue that overly protecting our children is one of the most dangerous things we can do as parents. (With that said, I still wouldn't take my kids on the hike to the Hidden Canyon at Zions with the two foot wide trail and a several hundred foot drop.)

Finally I ran across the guy who had solutions. He started some tutoring centers and actually won the TED prize (whatever that is) by giving students individual time with adults who care about their thoughts. Kids don't need more 'education' they need to learn to express themselves and explore.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Going Camping

It's sort of a last minute thing, but my finals will be over this afternoon, so we're going camping. I'll be back the middle of next week.

I also want to respond to Earl... I like those thoughts and pretty much agree (so I stand corrected, thanks). But I want to point out that Wal-mart's business practices as one of the biggest buyers in the world is to offer lower and lower prices for the goods that they buy from China. So I would agree that having a job is better for the people of China, then not having a job, but it partially due to Wal-Mart's business practice that those people get so little money. I know, you're going to argue that that's business and if Wal-Mart's not doing it, someone else will be. While that is true, as an enormous and extremely powerful buyer, Wal-Mart can get lower prices than most because manufacturers are unwilling to pass up such a large order even if the profit margin is low because it is better than that large order going to another manufacturer.

So by getting really low prices from China (to the detriment of the workers) Wal-Mart is able to pay their employees livable wages so they don't have to live off of Welfare. Just kidding, having lower tier employees live off of Welfare is part of the Wal-mart business plan. The savings is to a certain extent passed on to the consumer (thus the low prices), but I think upper management takes a piece of the 'extra' money floating around too. So I don't shop at Wal-Mart because they perpetuate the separation of the rich from the poor. Costco, on the other hand, pays reasonable wages to its employees and still has fairly low prices. I would shop there before Wal-Mart (even though it's a 20 mile ride to Costco and a 5 mile ride to Wal-Mart).

You're right on the China thing, if people didn't buy stuff made in China, then they would be unemployed and worse off then they are now, but I have a hard time believing that we can't come up with a better way to equalize wealth (not that we should all have the same, but the rich shouldn't be able to oppress the poor).

Anyway, I should study for that test I have in a few minutes... oops.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

China... FLDS

I heard this on NPR the other day and decided to look into it a little today. I found this article. Anyway, a Chinese guy was arrested (and sentenced to five years on prison) for getting signatures on a petition that said, "We want human rights, not the Olympics". How dare he say that he would prefer to be treated as a real human rather than have the pomp and circumstance of the Olympics to glorify his country... His country that keeps him in a cycle of oppression.

Also in the news recently was the FLDS temple that was recently taken by police because of alleged sexual and physical abuse occurring on the grounds. Most Americans seem to support the idea of taking the children out of the group so that the can live a normal life free of abuse and brainwashing. (Abuse and brainwashing has not been proven in this incidence and I may talk about it again later because I think it is an interesting topic, but I feel safe in saying that if there was abuse and brainwashing most people would approve getting the kids out of the situation.)

I think it's odd that we are against abuse and brainwashing in this country, but we go to Wal-Mart or almost any other store and pick up goods that were made in China under inhumane conditions and think nothing of it. We want to protect the children in this country, but Chinese children are of lesser value? Please don't tell me you believe that. I know why we buy the cheap products that were made in China, it's because they are less expensive. Are we really ready to sell our souls and in many ways support child abuse and inhumane conditions so that we can have cheap stuff? Drive by a Wal-Mart and check out the polling station...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Finals begin this week. I only have two. One of them is almost done and the other won't be too bad. I always have a weighed down feeling for finals week and am subsequently liberated after completing them. With comps also in the near future and some major projects that I want to get done (and no time to complete them), I don't know that this weight will ever go away. So if I don't blog, that's why. I'm busy stressing about things and trying to get them done... or relax so that I can get to them with a clear mind.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


Finals begin next week. In addition, I'm supposed to be studying for comps. I'm busy, so the blog is being neglected. I'll be back shortly. But while you wait, here are a couple of youtube videos that everyone should see.

This is the Abbot and Costello Who's on First? skit. It's a classic!

This is from Saturday Night Live. It's funny

Friday, April 4, 2008

Pop Quiz

Watch the clip found at this link (it's the trailer for an upcoming moving) and then answer the following questions.

1) Does that look like fun?

2) Would you do it? Why, why not or with what modifications?

Have a good weekend

Thursday, April 3, 2008

More on Solutions

I've been thinking a lot about solutions and have come to the conclusion that it is almost entirely up to individuals making changes to influence the masses. This isn't going to be a top down change, I feel that it has to happen from the grassroots level and work its way up.

I overheard a conversation the other day about gas prices. They were discussing the high gas prices and how there are alternatives available, but the government was keeping them out of the hands of the people. They called it a conspiracy, a cooperation of the government and big oil companies to make lots of money. I am not big on conspiracy theories, but let's take a look at this idea.

Gas prices are high, that is correct. I have never taken an economics class, but I have certainly heard of supply and demand. If the demand for gas is really high, shouldn't the gas companies be able to charge whatever they want? Sure, there is competition between companies and Americans will choose to get the most value for every dollar spent (in the fuel industry I think they'll usually choose one of the cheapest). If you take out the competition it is bad. If you add huge government subsidies, that too is bad (and already occurring). Big oil companies recently made presentations to congress about their large profit margins. While I think government needs to pull the money out of oil subsidies, I would otherwise agree with the oil companies. Let them charge what they want. If people are going to pay it, why shouldn't they?

Another complaint that I overheard was that there was technology available to drastically increase fuel economy and keep everyone in their cars without using all the gas, etc. They claim that the government stomped that out early. I agree, the fuel efficient technologies have been available for many decades, but I don't think it was the government that stomped it out (I've heard stories otherwise, but nothing concrete). Do you know who I think stomped out the fuel efficient developments? You and me. Did you buy one to support the development? Me neither. How is a new innovation going to make a profit if nobody buys it? They won't. That's why they aren't around.

When fuel prices hit $10/gallon (or hopefully before that) there will be more pressure to find alternatives and people will be willing to experiment a little to get out of the cycle of rising gas prices. I think that financial pressure for innovation is a good thing, we should let it happen. People will make changes if it seems like a good investment and if it becomes 'cool' (someday I hope to discover what that really means, I've been avoiding up to this point in my life).

OK, I want to throw something else out there. Alternative transportation methods aren't flourishing because they aren't financially attractive or popular. I want to simplify this a little more. I read a recent article in Reader's Digest about fuel economy. Sorry, I can't find the article online to provide a link, but the article was about a competition to see who could get the best fuel economy. During the competition they all used hybrids, but one of the contestants usually drives a regular economy car and gets over 100 mpg. So how does he get tremendous gas mileage? Did he redo the engine? Does he use a special fuel? No. He drives to conserve gas, the car is entirely stock. He doesn't accelerate quickly (he takes his foot off the brake and lets the car slowly pick up speed pressing only slightly on the accelerator). He tries not to use the brakes (when he sees a stop sign some distance ahead he takes his foot off the accelerator and lets the car slow down gradually). He has removed the extra junk from his car (you know, the stuff that rolls around in the trunk that you never use). He doesn't drive fast (keep the car at 50-55 mph and you'll get far better gas mileage than at 70+). (And he sometimes turns the car off when he's going down hills and doesn't need to use the engine.)

I am not sure about this guys social life, but I'm guessing he's not the 'coolest' guy on the block. He drives like a little old lady. He never guns it, he slows down miles before the turn that he needs to make and he drives slow enough to slop people down on the interstate. Those are all simple changes that are completely accessible to EVERYONE, but there are very few people who drive that conservatively. Why not? I hear a lot of complaints about fuel prices, why aren't people taking steps that are readily available to them to decrease the money they need to spend on fuel? It's not 'cool'. People are unwilling to make certain sacrifices to see the changes they want to.

I think that is why people still shop at Wal-Mart, even though they know they are supporting inhumane treatment of foreign workers. That is why people buy more 'stuff'. That is why the country is going the direction it is. Remember, we have a government 'of the people, for the people'. There was a time that I didn't believe that, I felt distant from the system. I still feel distant from the system, but the more I see public policy at work, I see the government following the desires of the public. We don't want sacrifice. We want everything we've always had and more. Then we complain that the government is letting things slide? We are the government! We are the reason that the city makes tons more money from taxes at Wal-Mart than the neighborhood shop. Our desire for our own 1/4 acre is the reason we have problems with sprawl. We are the traffic that congests the roads and demands transportation improvements.

I don't doubt that there is corruption in our government, but I think our government appropriately reflects the people it governs. I think it's an unfortunate reflection of the people, but it is a true reflection. If we want to see changes in government, we have to change. So the solution to 'the problem' is to make changes yourself and to encourage as many others as possible to make the appropriate changes as well. I still think it's important to be in regular communication with city planners and to participate actively in local government, but it's always up to the people.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Solution

Phil didn't want to hear about statistics, so I will answer his question instead, what is the solution?

I'll make it simple. The Plat of Zion. This was the city designed by Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon religion. It has won awards from the American Planning Association and it really has a lot of merit. The design is set into square miles. Each square mile will have a population of about 15-20 thousand people. When a city grows larger than that, a new city will be built next to it. The city is based around a city center consisting of schools, churches and government buildings. Commercial areas are also in the city center. All of the houses were located in the city so that everyone had the same access to health care, education and cultural events. The farmers would 'commute' to their farms. Each city was surrounded by agriculture where crops and animals were raised. It was a great design with lots of potential.

However, there were some problems. First off, the planning was pretty strict by current standards. At some point of 'planning' you start borderlining on socialism. That's not the direction we want to go. Additionally, while many cities have characteristics of the Plat of Zion design, few have stuck with it over the years. Sterling in Southern Alberta Canada is as close as it gets to a true living Plat of Zion. About 800 people live in Sterling and you could say that the city didn't really strive. Other cities in the area were designed after the Plat of Zion, but with growth eventually gave up the plan. So it is the failure of the city to strive that has made the Plat of Zion a success in one city.

What we need to do is rebuild the entire world using the plat of Zion design and all of our problems will be solved. Sorry, I suppose you wanted realistic solutions. The point of that discussion was that every city is designed differently and has their own unique problems. I live in a city that is well designed and I can walk most anywhere within the city. The problem is enforcement of laws. Motorists speed and don't stop at cross walks making it extremely difficult to navigate the city by foot. Additionally, traveling outside of the city is difficult because there are only two roads going North, one is a 4 lane highway with a 2 inch shoulder, the other is a bumpy back road that is experiencing increases in traffic volume. I am working to increase pedestrian and bike awareness with police and I'm working to maintain a through route to the north for bike traffic.

Each city will be different, the last city I was in had wonderful enforcement of laws protecting pedestrians, but the transit system was border lining on non-existent.

The solution is complete streets and mixed use zoning. Really the solution lies in your hands. You need to be at your city planner's office making sure that he knows that you need sidewalks and wide shoulders to get around town. He needs to know that you value a walkable community. He needs to know that you aren't 'anti-car', but pro-community and that will be aided by walkability. He needs to know that you are not the only person with your particular view. You also need to be present and vocal at planning commission meetings and city council meetings. Express your views and show that it is not only economical, but it will make the city a better place.

We need to be working with city planners to make zoning more advantageous for small businesses and more difficult for large box stores. We need the people of the community to vote with their money for the smaller businesses. We have to show the decision makers that we want smaller shops and walkable scale so that when they invest in small, there will be a return in investment greater than there would be for big box stores (that means paying more and shopping at your neighbor's store). We need to recognize the potential problems arising in our communities and bring them to the attention of the decision makers. We need to be educated on city government procedures and we need to be active in the process. Put simply, if we want to make a difference, we have to live what we preach and be involved.

While the solution varies greatly between cities, it all revolves around an involved community, walkability, complete streets and mixed use zoning. We have a lot of retrofitting to do, but there is a lot of room to make things better. I hope this post isn't too vague, it's hard to get down to 'the solution' when it's different in every city.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


If, by chance, you made it through yesterday's post, you may be wondering what that has to do with anything. I am studying exercise science, why am I studying principles of sprawl and city planning? I will explain, again in a long, drawn out, not so exciting, academic way.

So why does it matter if a city is sprawling? More auto traffic yields more air pollution, that's true. More air pollution yields more cardiovascular disease, lung disease and cancers. That's not good. Honestly, I'm interested in air quality and the health benefits of clean air, but that's not what I'm studying. More auto traffic means that fewer people are using active means of transportation. This increases sedentary behavior and leads to diseases associated with a sedentary lifestyle, mainly cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes and osteoporosis.

There it is, the obvious link between city planning/sprawl and exercise, that's why I'm studying it. Except if you really get into the research that has been done in the area, it just doesn't hold water. The first study I read on this topic was crudely conducted, but used a whole lot of people (hundreds of thousands). The researchers determined the walkability of the communities where the people lived and then correlated it with other information that they had about the people. It turns out that people who live in 'walkable' areas are physically active for 15 more minutes than those people who don't live in walkable communities. Oh, that's 15 more minutes every month. That adjusts down to right about 30 seconds a day. Of course it was significantly different because there were hundreds of thousands of subjects, but that has absolutely no physiological significance. Thirty seconds of exercise is not enough to see any effect.

Studies certainly exist that show that as areas are more 'walkable' people tend to be more physically active. On the contrary, there are also numerous studies that show that active people are more likely to choose to live in walkable areas. In the end, it is not the city design that leads people to exercise, it is that active people choose to live in neighborhoods designed to be walkable.

I recently corresponded with someone who did her dissertation on changing an environment and evaluating the change in activity. After making the environment more 'walkable' people were significantly less physically active than before the change to the environment.

The data is sort of mixed, but there are a lot of people questioning if the design of a city has any effect on the activity levels of the people in the community. So why are we so worried about making these design changes? If it is going to cost money to make roads accessible to bicyclists and pedestrians, but people aren't going to become more active, what's the use? We may have better odds by spending the money on local recreation centers so that everyone in the community can drive to the rec center and exercise and then drive home. I don't think people would do that either.

The problem isn't so much with urban design as it is with a lazy population. People don't like doing more than they need to. People don't like to 'exercise' and people like the convenience that comes with a car nearby amenities. And if their body goes to pot, they go to the doctor and he will prescribe drugs to 'solve' the problem. When the air is no longer breathable and it's too hot to grow things we will go to the scientists and they will create a magic pill that will make it all better. (Sorry, that was a bitter paragraph not supported by anything substantial, I'll move back to a reasonable line of thinking.)

We still need walkable communities. Not because it is going to make people walk, because I don't think that it will. We need the infrastructure available to make walking and cycling attractive so that people can choose to walk if they so desire. I believe that as gas prices continue to increase, there is going to be an increased demand on bicycles for transportation. I have already seen it. Where people used to laugh at me for riding my bike everywhere, now people are saying, "You really haven't bought gas since January?"--- No, I haven't. Gas prices really aren't that high if you don't buy it. We need bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure ready for when demand increases, and I have no doubt that it will.

The latter part of this week I'll be studying statistics. We can all hope that I don't have an entire post on statistics, but just maybe I'll study my stats on my blog as well.