Friday, July 27, 2007

Composting Cousins

My cousins, Terry and Barak, are now proud composters. This backyard composter, from Real Goods, can be easily assembled in minutes, keep the animals out, and will transform kitchen scraps into usable mulch for next year's garden. It is also makes a good hiding spot.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Google Transit

I am in Austin, TX for the week. After the expensive car trouble that I had last weekend, I am even more motivated to continue using public transit, where available. They say that Austin has the best mass transit in Texas, or at least the highest rideship per capita. It also is one of the test cities for Google Transit. This is a point to point mapping interface that got it right. It's fast, simple, and easy to use...a grand improvement over the city's own transit website. Search results provide walking directions to the bus stop, an easy to read map with bus stop icons, any transfer information, trip summary, and cost comparison to driving. It also works well on internet enabled phones for spontanious trip planning.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Bad Timing in La Grange

While driving from Houston to Austin, I passed through a town called Ellinger. That's the town where you have to slow down to 45 MPH for about half a mile. I always make sure to slow down in this town. I've only received two speeding tickets ever, and they were both in this town, two years apart, by the same police officer. Anyway, this time around, I slowed down, but couldn't speed up again. My accelerator wouldn't work. I coasted into the Chevron station where we looked for a ride to Austin for Yuon, who was ridesharing to Austin with me. The town mechanic came out to tell me that's it's my timing belt and that I should get towed to La Grange 13 miles away, because he doesn't have the part. They are fixing it now and I am staying in a cheap motel accross the street named Cottonwood. This trip to Austin will cost me about $400 including the motel and tow. A Greyhound would have cost me about $22. Riding as a passenger with someone else would have cost me about $15. I didn't accept rideshare payment from Yuon, since I only got her halfway.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bussing to Sam

I went to my friend Sam's house in Houston to help him start a garden in his backyard. I decided to try the Houston bus again, instead of making the 25 mile roundtrip journey in my car. I checked out the route on the Houston Metro Trip Planner . It gave me route that was 83 minutes ( inluding a 30 minute tranfer ) to his house. I figured I would bring along a book on tape to pass the time. After waiting at my transfer stop for while, the bus driver from another bus line pointed out to me that the stop I was waiting at was only for weekend travel and that I should use the stop around the corner. I looked at the sign, and yes, in the fine print, it said that it was just a weekend stop. I had missed my bus and had to wait another 30 minutes ( an hour total ) for the next one. Next time I won't make the same mistake. All in all, it took me about two hours to get to Sam's house. Coming back, there is only a 6 minute tranfer time, so the total trip time is much less. All in all, I think it was still worth it to take the bus. It cost me only $2 ( unlimited travel for 24 hours ), was very relaxing b/c I didn't have to concentrate on driving, and I got some exercise walking to the stops. Oh, and Sam and Linh ( his wife ) are well on their way to having a small farm in their backyard.


I felt like I was in the video game frogger when trying to cross this 8 lane Houston street to get to the bus stop on the other side. There was no walk signal and the middle median was like a concrete tightrope. The good news is that I made it across without having to use up any of my lives. The name of the street is called Westheimer. Ironically, the street used to be named "Farm to Market Rd" and is still labeled as such on some maps.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I'm a hypocrite, but not entirely.

I think it's important to note that I have a car...a gasoline one. It's a 1991 volvo wagon, which I purchased for $1300 a few months ago. It's gets about 27 miles to the gallon on the highway. Not too bad for an old car. " According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) the average gas mileage for new vehicles sold in the United States has 23.1 miles per gallon (mpg) in 1980 to 24.7 in 2004. This represents a paltry increase of slightly less than 7% over the 25 year period."

Last month, I sold my methane powered van to a non-profit organization in Austin, TX . I wrote an article about it in my music blog. I used it for four years as a touring vehicle ( I'm a musician ). CNG ( compressed natural gas ) has 90 % less harmful emissions that a gasoline vehicle, but the infracture hasn't been supported by the industry or the government, thus the existing pumps are slowly shutting down. This led me to sell the vehicle, being that I couldn't get out to West Texas, where I am building a geodesic dome in the desert.

So now, the challenge is to find ways to reduce and eventually eliminate car trips as much as possible. This was easy when I lived in Portland, Oregon...a city which planned ahead while putting much focus on mass transit and pedestrian infratructure.

This week, I am visiting family in Houston, arguably the car capital of the world. I grew up in this city. At the time, I didn't have any place to campare it to, other than Johannesburg ( also a car-centric city ), where I was born.

To get here from Austin, I drove. The other options are to take the Greyhound, or fly. There is no train from Austin to Houston, though there would have been if Tom Delay didn't pull the proposal for high speed rail from a Texas Ballot. I also had equipment to haul ( instruments, etc ), therefore I decided to drive...but not before placing a rideshare ad on craigslist.

The ad was fairly last minute and I didn't think that I would get a response before leaving, but I did...right as I was leaving. I called Kira, and we discovered that we were both at the Kerrville Folk Festival and have friends in common. She felt more comfortable knowing that I was not a murderer, so I swung by her place to fetch her, and her big heavy backpack and guitar. Not only did we have alot to talk about ( folk music, natural building, travelling in Israel ), but we both saved money and time by sharing the ride. And having an extra person in the car doubled my car's fuel efficiency per person.

Growing up mostly in Houston, I don't think I took the bus even once. After living in Portland, Oregon for that last four years and getting used to having exceptional mass transit, I decided to try the Houston bus for the first time a few months ago in a previous visit. I was pleasantly surprised, after having very low expectations. I took the bus downtown from far West Houston. It's not close. It took the bus 50 minutes, which means that it's almost 2 hours round trip. In a car, this would take about 25 minutes each way, or about half the time. This is a pretty consistent formula, I've found. How ever long it takes in a car, it will take double the time on the bus. However, in a car, the time is strictly spent focusing on driving ( hopefully ). It's wasted time. On the bus, I can make/return phone calls, read, and write. Since I can sometimes get motion sickness while reading, I have books on tape, which I can play though my phone. One also has to factor in the time that it takes to work to earn the money that it costs to drive any distance. In this department, the bus wins again. On the bus, there are also opportunities to relax, wind down, wake up, meet people, and observe people in passing cars. One can let their minds and eyes wonder in ways that they can't when having to focus on the road.

catastrophic dependence ?

It's hard to find a starting point for this blog, being that there are many years, choices, observations, and factors which have lead me to subscribe to the point of view that we posess a catastrophic dependence on the automobile. Catastrophic ? Yes, I believe so.

ca·tas·tro·phe [kuh-tas-truh-fee]

1.a widespread disaster
2.any misfortune, mishap, or failure; fiasco
3.a final event or conclusion, usually an unfortunate one; a disastrous end
4.(in a drama) the point at which the circumstances overcome the central motive, introducing the close or conclusion; dénouement.
5.Geology. a sudden, violent disturbance, esp. of a part of the surface of the earth; cataclysm.
6.Also called catastrophe function. Mathematics. any of the mathematical functions that describe the discontinuities that are treated in catastrophe theory.

So, yes...I think that the word catastrophe describes the current state of our automobile dependence.

The initial reason for the creation of automobiles was to lessen the commute time for the wealthy, but as the cost of cars coupled with financing options became subsidized by various industries and government, and cars became available to the common worker, the average commute time has more than doubled from the days when people lived in walking distance from their workplaces, stores, and neighbors.

I'm not suggesting that we go back to those days, but I think it's important to look back a century or two to conclude whether this transportation model has been successful or not.

It is safe to argue that our automobile infrastructure dependence can be pinpointed as the single most catastrophic event of our time. Just in America, it leads to 40,000 fatalities each year. That's more than all of the terrorist acts and natural disasters combined from the last entire century...and that occurs EVERY year. Our dependence on oil is the primary reason for the war in Iraq and the casualties that have resulted from that.

This dependence contributes to our lethargic lifestyles, and resulting health consequences.

Sorry...running out of wifi be continued.