Earth Hour in San Francisco

Before Earth hour: Downtown San Francisco at 8:20pm
Before Earth hour: Downtown San Francisco at 8:20pm


I attempted to “celebrate” Earth Hour last weekend by going to Dolores Park (down the street a few blocks from my house) to see if the lights would all shut off at 8:30, as was the idea behind the event. Never mind that I brought my digital camera, never mind that I brought my digital camera. 

At around 8:30 the lights in the park went out and a few notable buildings shut off their lights- City Hall, a few towers downtown, and the Bay Bridge had most of its lights off. Overall, not too shockingly dark though:

During Earth Hour: the view from Dolores Park in San Francisco
During Earth Hour: downtown San Francisco at 8:35pm

I’m not sure how much this token gesture really helps, but maybe it makes people more concious of their electricity usage during the rest of the year. A friend pointed out that lots of extra power was probably used the hour before Earth Hour as people like me charged their digital cameras. Oh well.

One other thing. If you are looking at this in Internet Explorer, all the text is probably pushed against the left side of your browser window. My apologies. I am looking into this and hope to fix it soon.  It’s a great time for you consider switching to Firefox or Google’s Chrome (my new favorite).

Detroit, the recession and architecture


Abandoned housing development, Manteca CA
Abandoned housing development, Manteca CA

Upon reading the news that the median home price in Detroit was $7,500 for the month of December, the reality of just how bad the recession (although I would say it’s edging more towards the dreaded “D” word now) finally sunk in. Things are bad here in California too- unemployment is now over 10% and ghost towns have appeared where houses were once selling for over half a million dollars. Housing prices in the East Bay, particularly Oakland and Richmond, have plummeted. It is now possible to buy a house for well under $100,000. In some cases, houses that sold in 2006 for $300,000 can now be had for as little as $20,000. Granted, people shouldn’t be paying massive sums of money to live in Matnteca to commute 90 miles each way;  similarly, houses in crime-ridden neighborhoods next to refineries should never have been selling for $300,000 in the first place. It does how much times have changed in the last two years though. 

As much as I hope the “stimulus package” does work, I’m very pessimistic. Our entire idea of what “normal” is needs to be recalibrated. I don’t even know what to think about places like Detroit. After growing up in the Rust Belt (near Buffalo) and getting used to hearing about layoffs, declining populations and abandoned buildings, hearing this last hopeless statistic about Detroit is almost too much to bear (although conversely, Buffalo is doing well in comparsion right now). 

The architectural excesses of the last decade and a half will not be returned to any time soon. Sam Jacob’s article on Parametricism in The Architect’s Journal lays this issue out succinctly by relating to not only the financial excesses of architecture but to the theoretical and formal ones as well. I agree. The way out of our current predicament is not going to look like this:

Excess: the Akron Art Museum
Excess: the Akron Art Museum

Governor Schwarzenegger Opens a new Overpass

Cupcakes from Caltrans Okay, I admit I’m posting this a bit late. I have been really busy and we actually had some hot weather for the first time in about a year last weekend, so I haven’t been blogging. Last week, Caltrans (the California department of transportation) threw a festive gathering in front of my office to celebrate the new overpass that has been under construction on the other side of the wall at my office for the last year. They call it the “West Approach” because it is the west approach to the San Francisco Bay Bridge. The Governator showed up, but nobody actually saw him. He pulled up in an SUV on the overpass, out of site of the party, and gave a speech the was telecast to people standing on the ground about 200 feet away. Following the speech he drove away. It was completely surreal. Then, they served really awful (free) food including vegetarian baked beans that tasted like wet packing peanuts. Oh, and cupcakes. Sweet, delicious blue and orange cupcakes. Unfortunately the frosting melted instantly in the sun. Special thanks to my friend Angela and her iPhone for the photos.
Freeway Opening Festivities

The Olympic Torch meets the Bay Quackers Bus in San Francisco

The Quackers Bus and the TorchAs you may be able to see in this blurry photo I borrowed from the CNN website (and they apparently got it from the local KRON4 helicopter) the infamous Olympic Torch struggled to make its way through San Francisco today. While thousands of people on all sides of the China issue were gathered at the baseball stadium and the waterfront downtown (the official route), the Torch was being secretly run through several of the most unsuspecting parts of the city accompanied by the Bay Quackers Bus. What is this bus, you ask? It is a duck-themed amphibious tour bus for tourists. Thank God they upheld the dignity of the Olympics. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to cancel the whole thing before it even started?

You can check out my photos from the protests at flickr.

San Francisco Olympic Torch Protest

Gray Whales: rebounding here, not in the West

On the west coast of North America, people are used to the annual migration of Gray Whales that are viewed from whale watching boats and places like Pt. Reyes, in Marin County, CA. These whales migrate between Baja Mexico, where they have their young, and Alaska, their summer feeding grounds. Gray whales have returned from the brink of extinction thanks to the ban on commercial whaling. Unfortunately, the Western Gray Whale on the other side of the Pacific is not so lucky.

“Noise threatens last western gray whales” >Read more at Far North Science.

alittlebettergasstation, or maybe not

I’m not sure if you are familiar with British Petroleum’s rebranding in the past few years, but they are trying to get away from the word “petroleum” as much as possible. Their most recent marketing tactic can be found on their new website, titled It’s tied in to a “gas station of the future” called “Helios” that BP recently built and is operating in Los Angeles.

Now, back to the website. I’m not sure how much you think about gasoline marketing, but I’m not really that convinced that people really care where they buy there gas as long as it is competitively priced and the station is conveniently located. This website is looks like BP is trying to market gasoline either to ravers or small children, and as taget markets for petroleum products I’m not sure this is a very sound business strategy:

What, exactly, is so “green” about BP? The fact that they made a futuristic-looking gas station in Los Angeles with a few token “green” features? Delving a little deeper into their website, there is a feature called “The Greencurve.” By answering a few questions, the site will give you an evalution of how “green” you are. I was anxious to see what their evalution of my behaviors would be, considering I checked the box for “don’t own a car” on the survey.
I took their little survey and found their personalized advice to be amusing. They suggested I try telecommuting and traveling at less busy times of the day to save gasoline and help the planet. Guess what BP? I DON’T DRIVE A CAR you morons. I ride my bike to work. I can ride back and forth to work and home all day and I’m not going to burn a single ounce of fossil fuel.

Taking advice from a company that has on its record both the deadliest industrial accident in the past 15 years (in the United States) and ownership of the nation’s worst polluting industrial plant probably isn’t the best way to become “greener.” Their website sure looks cool to high school kids on acid though.

Extinction: Not just for dinosaurs

Boreal ChickadeeAs if enough things aren’t going wrong in the world, it looks like the populations of many common types of birds are disappearing in North America. In an article titled “Populations of 20 Common Birds Declining” the Associated Press is reporting that birds as familiar as the grackle and the meadowlark are seeing huge declines. The numbers of 20 different birds are at least half what they were in 1967. Greg Butcher of the National Audubon Society authored the study that the article draws upon and he is quoted as saying.

“Many of the birds that are disappearing are specialists, while the thriving ones are generalists that do well in urban sprawl and all kinds of environments, Butcher said. In a way it’s the Wal-Mart-ization of America’s skies, he said.”

If you want to read more about this issue, I highly reccomend the Audobon Society’s website. They have a page about declining bird populaions.

Jesus. With a dinosaur.On a lighter night, this image caught my eye today. Monty Propps, a contributor to created it and I think it is great occaision to mention how much support there is on the internet for the concept that dinosaurs and humans coexisted on Earth within the past few thousand years. In fact, some creationists have pointed out that that Noah brought them along on the Ark! If you’ve never been to the Answers in Genesis website you are really missing out.

I never would have known that it’s entirely possible for Noah to have brought along enough animals to repopulate the earth without reading this site. Because the ark held roughly the same volume as 522 stock railroad cars, each of which can hold 240 sheep, it would have been EASY for Noah to pack a couple of dinosaurs down there below deck.

“Without getting into all the math, the 16,000-plus animals would have occupied much less than half the space in the Ark (even allowing them some moving-around space).”-

I think someone should offer a prize to take this site up on their statement that “a Christian doesn’t have to have a blind faith to believe that there really was an Ark. What the Bible says about the Ark can even be measured and tested today.” Get some wood, nails and about 240 railroad cars full of animals…