Friday, November 23, 2007

Junky Car Club

I just joined the Junky Car Club which I became aware of from my new friend and fellow blogger, Michael Trent. My family's cars aren't really junky but they most certainly are not new. We have a 1988 Subaru Forester and a 1990 Saturn SC2. They're at that point where they might have cosmetic problems but we're not intending to fix them. I don't want to rehash the post Michael recently articulated at third place consultants - that moved me to join up - but I'm creating my own because there are many in my sphere of people who would love the desire and intent of the Junky Car Club: "Living with less so we can give more"

I love the idea behind this club for several reasons:

1. It provides some solidarity for those who could afford new cars if they wanted to, but simply would rather spend money elsewhere - like supporting ministry and relief work and other charities... and makes that something hip. I'll be getting a calendar. All proceeds go to feed the homeless and impoverished in L.A.

2. Yes, there are probably more fuel efficient cars available. I've experienced Prius Envy. However, the most environmental product in the world is the one you never use.

3. I'm one who anthropomorphizes cars. As a small child I saw an emotive face in every grille. Now I still love quirky, character-laden, junky cars. They develop personalities and collective memories that new cars just don't have. Every dent and scratch is like a badge of honor. The favorite car I ever owned was the one I just sold: in 2003 I bought a 1988 Volvo 240DL Station Wagon on Ebay for $1,300. That's incidentally the same price I paid for my first car; in 1989 I bought a 1983 Plymouth Turismo for $1,300.

4. Many of my circle of friends drive junky cars. Some out of necessity, some by choice. Now there's an official ministry basis for doing so! Join up here: and let me know if you've signed up. Perhaps we can create a West Michigan Chapter. Well envisioned, Mr. Mike Foster.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Futurist Quotes

"The phonograph is not of any commercial value." - Thomas Edison, 1880

"Everything that can be invented has been invented." -Charles Duell, Commissioner, US Office of Patents, 1899

"There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will." - Albert Einstein, 1932

"Man will not fly for 50 years." - Wilbur Wright, 1903

"I think there is a world market for about five computers." -Thomas Watson, founder of IBM, 1958

"The Japanese auto industry isn't likely to carve out a big slice of the U.S. market for itself." - Business Week, 1968

"640K ought to be enough for anybody." - Bill Gates, 1981

What current technologies are being treated like this?
What is coming that is going to change everything?

Reading these quotes changes the way I listen to science and technology reporting.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Environmental Police? No thanks...

Sunday, I stopped a guy about to toss a stack of worship orders and lyric sheets in the trash and directed him to the recycling bin at church. He politely obliged, even thanked me, and expressed that he didn't know it was there. Good, another person aware. And he's a good-hearted soul, I really like this guy.

But why did I still feel like an environmental turd? It was important for me to raise awareness, and I was gracious, and he was cool with it. But I still groaned inwardly. Why?

Because I am aware of the "plank" in my own eye. (See Matthew 7:3)

I am fully aware that there is so much more that I can do to lessen my impact on the environment. Once you are aware of it, your responsibility grows. Am I willing to give up disposable diapers for my 1 year old? Probably not. I should be. Am I willing to let more of my yard go natural and mow less? Yes. Will I do away with my clothes dryer? Not with a 1 and 3 year old at home. Will I pay more for green electricity? Yes - we've enrolled in Consumers Energy's Green Generation program. And each decision gets weighed as you go on - the important part is that Creation Care should be part of each decision.

The important point I am learning is to advocate for Creation Care without getting preachy. If you ever get known as the "Green Guy" you're treading into dangerous ground - and modeling environmentalism for others. Sell your Hummer, fast, if you expect to have any credibility and integrity.

BTW - I'm currently sitting in an exciting presentation of a new concrete block company: EPI - that uses fly ash and crushed post-consumer glass. They are able to take glass with caps and labels - so the recycling is easy. They've taken 20 tons of glass from Kent County Recycling and made it into building products. Very cool... click the title of this post to check it out.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


For those of you who don't know, I'm a map geek. I love finding quirks and unusual conditions and out of the way places. I love the barren, icy rocks in the south pacific. The melting around Greenland and even further north is revealing heretofore unknown islands. What used to be the closest point of land to the north pole is no longer. The borders of states along the Mississppi River change as the river leaves oxbow lakes as it carves through the earth. Louisiana grows by miles annually because of the silt (and pollution) that is deposited at the Mississippi Delta. BTW, Did you know, there's a 5,800 square mile "dead zone" of ocean off the MS delta where nothing lives? That's the size of Connecticut. There's not enough oxygen in the water because of chemical reactions with all of our dumped out nitrogen, phosphorus, and hazardous chemicals. It's the largest dead zone in the world.

Here's a few more governmental map quirks that are closer to home for me: There's a whole US town that is separate from the USA, stuck on a penninsula, only bordering Canada. You might need to take a boat or cross two national borders to go see your doctor. Do a search on Point Roberts, Washington. There's a small piece of Kentucky that is separarted from the rest of the state by a bend in the Mississippi River. Search on Google Maps for Kentucky Bend Road, Kentucky. Which three states are the only states to have a geometric arc inscribed as part of their state line? You find it and post it here.
Since downloading Google Earth we've learned that we've intersected with a piece of a map history ourselves. Our house is coincidentally built directly across the 43rd Parallel. The nearest other Parallels are in Grayling, (44th) and Kalamazoo, (42nd). I discovered that and felt like I'd won the map geek lottery. I've threatened to paint it on the walls of the kitchen.

A website that I could spend hours on is This utility shows a global map with countries in relative sizes to hundreds of variables: population, wealth, tourism, environmental factors, trade, refugees, etc. It also shows interesting factoids about each map and statistical anomolies. Some of them are obvious, some quirky, and some extremely sad. Check out the following:
Land Area.

The map we all know. Note: Japan has 6 times the population of Australia. Compare this map to that of relative population. But first look at these others:
Carbon Emmissions - 1980

The USA and Europe are fat and happy and gross. Note: Africa barely shows up except where there is a strong European influence. Go on the site and see how Carbon Emmissions changes in the year 2000. But wait, I have more!
Tons Recycled

While we are the biggest users - we appear to be the biggest re-users, too. Shame India doesn't even show up. Japan recycles as much as China does - it has to, it has nowhere to put waste. I wonder which country is representing relatively well in South America?
Two more - then you go play there:
Preventable Common Deaths
Africa and India take it on the chin. Haiti is nearly as large as the USA. Australia is non-existent.
Since that one is a major bummer - here's a fun, quirky one:
Number of people named Chang? no...
it's Shipping Container Ports

China ships more far more goods (internally and externally) by shipping container than the rest of the world combined.
Have fun with the site... there are hundreds of variables that each tell a global story.

Saturday, November 3, 2007


I've been able to keep old things out of landfills by posting to the Grand Rapids chapter of This service is based on the old adage, "One man's trash is another man's treasure." You post an item that you no longer want but that somebody may want for whatever reason. People post back that they want the item and when they can come get it. You pick who you want to give the old desk, shelves, torn card table, costume, or books to. There's an honor system that you will not re-sell the items you pick up - which is a principle you must agree to to sign up. All you need is a yahoo account.
One Saturday this summer, I had 9 items get picked up from my garage! Plus I got to know a whole bunch of people, including a woman who needed old card tables to have a rummage sale to raise money for a local stray animal shelter. My card table would have otherwise gone in the dumpster. You get the idea.
Like craigslist, there's probably a chapter in your neck of the woods.

Friday, November 2, 2007

How Walkable is your House?

Here's a little google map add-on that measures how walkable your home and neighborhood is. This is not only valuable for real-estate and community but can help measure holistic greenness of your location. Do you need to drive everywhere you go? Or can you walk to restaurants, the drugstore, hardware stores, bus stops, etc.? My house scored a 43; however they somehow missed the main public bus stop on the corner. On the other hand, they counted an adult video store as a nearby movie theatre - not sure I want those walkability points, thank you very much.

BTW - I am really proud of Susie's Cafe just down the street, represented by the coffee cup near the center of my walkability map. It's become a great little neighborhood Third Place.

I'm proud to have them in the neighborhood, and want to see them thrive. One Saturday night after midnight I needed to finish up worship graphics and send them in to church, and our home wireless was down. I went over and sat outside the closed Susie's with my laptop and sent the graphics in to church. They've got a great breakfast, too. Go, Susie!

mindshift innovation: "Little Green Lies" - Green Romance and Reality#links

mindshift innovation: "Little Green Lies" - Green Romance and Reality#links

Rex is right on with this. Who is going to take the risks involved to climb the learning curve and pull this off?

The focus of a client's decision to do or not do a LEED certified buildings, let alone a Platinum one, would no longer be on up front cost if as an industry we could solve and reduce the incredible amount of wasted effort and non-value-added work that seems to be part and parcel of the status quo that architects, engineers, and contractors labor within. Just look at how slowly the industry is adapting to the new CSI specification format. It's been in place for 4 years now and we still have contractors who do not want us to use the new specification format. We still design and construct buildings under a century-old model.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Happy Halloween and the Neighborhood

Growing up, Halloween was my favorite holiday. I loved the fantasy of everyone in effect being something they were not. You could tell a lot about a person based on what they dressed up as. I usually procrastinated about what I'd be, so at the last minute, it was: grab one of my dad's shirts, stuff a pillow inside, grab mom's eyebrow pencil for stubble, put on old torn pants, tie a bandana to a stick, and hallelujah, I'm a bum. I'd come home with a pillowcase full of loot, most of which usually remained there until at least Valentine's Day or my mom finally threw it out.

I remember going trick or treating around my neighborhood in North Haledon, NJ, a neighborhood I moved away from when I was 15. To the left of us were the Beckers, then the Moores, then the Levajacs, then the Schmiels. To the right of us were the Wolfs/Pollacks/Dykstras and the Micklauses. Across the street, left to right, were the Corvos, Capps, Inzones, Lathams, Saweys, and Ackermans. All of these families must have made a big impression on me because I still remember their names and can picture their homes and faces 23 years later, more vividly than any other place I've ever lived. Halloween was the annual ritual of "My how you've grown!" and "What are you dressed up as this year?" It built community. People didn't move around back then. Half of them must be dead by now.

With our kids, I'm trying to create that sort of appreciation for our current neighborhood, which is a dead-end street of 5 homes in Grand Rapids, MI. We are fast friends with 2 neighbors and know all of the others by name, but haven't bothered to talk to people out on the main street. It's very different. One single guy has Tourette's Syndrome and is pretty reclusive. Another house is owned by a Vietnamese family who has two houses and seems to be here less than a quarter of the time. On the corner is an older widow who until recently had her son living with her, a good guy, but who had been a sex offender and couldn't be near kids. She'll be selling soon and moving into a retirement home. Out on the main street, people have moved in and out and I haven't kept track. At any rate, most of us don't emerge from our houses except by car - unless the kids or dogs are involved! Then we're walking, playing, and visiting.

Tonight, it was raining and chilly in Grand Rapids, and our kids had colds. Bummer. So it was off to the mall to trick or treat, of all places, the bane of every new urbanist and community planner. You know, it wasn't all that bad. There were families from all walks of life, jugglers, magicians, and cheerful high school volunteers in costumes giving away candy. We were able to interact with more people than I expected we would. It helps that our kids are among the 100 cutest on the planet. But of course it wasn't the same.

Those of you who know me, hold me accountable for this: we're bringing small gifts to the neighbors this Christmas, and having a block party or a barbeque or something this summer.