Monday, June 25, 2007

In Search of the King in Yellow

The King in Yellow, by Robert Chambers, is an obscure collection of Gothic short stories, was an inspiration of H. P. Lovecraft, and is not the sort of book you expect to find at Borders. I have been trying for several weeks to find a copy, thus far unsuccessfully.

My three regular places to look for books are all conveniently located near CalTrain stations, and as usual, I managed to find something I wanted to read...

  • At BookBuyers in Mountain View I found a collection of Saki's short stories.
  • At Feldman's Books in Menlo Park I got an anthology of vintage pulp fiction.
  • I discovered that Know Knew Books on Cal Ave, Palo Alto, is having a 50% off sale (but was glad to hear this in preparation for remodeling, not going out of business). No dice here either, though the owner had at least heard of the King in Yellow, and I found another of Chambers' works (unfortunately, a later, more conventional historical romance, though a hopeful looking read nonetheless).

Next on my list is McDonald's Books in San Francisco, and if they don't have it, I'm heading to Berkeley.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Summer's Here!

Us bike/CalTrain commuters have made it through that window between "too cold" and "too hot", where fair-weather bikers make it hard to get on the train, and can enjoy plenty of room on the bike car again. At least, we'll enjoy it when the A/C is working (I've found that on the older gallery-style cars, there seems to be separate A/C for each half, so if the bike section is sweltering, try the other side; and either it's my imagination, or else a trick of the internal thermostat, but when one side's A/C is out, the other's seems to go into overdrive to compensate, and it's very nice and cool over there).

I have a few tips for bike commuting in the heat:

  • Bring lots of water (yeah, everybody knows that, but it's worth repeating).
  • Take off your helmet the moment you stop riding, and you'll radiate a lot of heat out your head.
  • Go to work early (not that I'm taking this advice).
  • Ride just fast enough to get a breeze, but no faster.
I actually take a perverse enjoyment of biking in non-optimal weather. The world is not designed for our comfort. Suck it up, and thrive in the knowledge that dealing with a somewhat human-hostile environment means you're alive!

Summer is a good time of year for transit adventures. Kids are out of school, and if you take a day off of work, you can go places with them during the week when everything's running. Late sunsets help too.

Last week I took my daughter to Great America via CalTrain and VTA light rail. This works splendidly, but be advised to bring extra clothes--you will want to go to the water park, and a long walk and trolley ride in wet clothes is not so much fun.

Plenty of other outings will suggest themselves. This morning I saw a guy on the train with a fishing pole. Now it turned out he was meeting a buddy at SJ Diridon and they were going to drive to a lake, but there are actually in plenty of transit-accessible places to fish around here, especially on the bay. Just bear in mind that your fellow passengers will appreciate it if you make sure to have a fairly secure container for carrying your catch home.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Why Regular Americans Hate Tree-Huggers

Thanks to the Palo Alto Daily News for publishing this article! It can be viewed on their online edition at this url:

Or right here on 295bus!

A few months ago, I dropped by a meeting of Redwood City Cool Families (see article here), a local group citizens with concerns that seemed to mirror my own.

This is the kind social get-together where the issues of the day are discussed, in an informal manner, over wine and fancy cheese. Discussion topics for the evening included:

  • Apologies for driving to the meeting
  • Printing a T-shirt, and finding a printer willing to use environmentally-friendly ink to do it
  • Recycling
  • The fate of the Redwood City Industrial Saltworks

The last topic was naturally the one that most piqued my interest, and discussion that evening seemed to be fairly balanced, between the pros and cons of reusing this bayland area as housing (in an area where it's very needed, and could potentially cut down on much car use by allowing a few thousand people to live closer to their work) vs wetlands restoration.

Lately Cool Families has started staking out a position on this issue, and it's one with decidedly less balance--they advocate complete restoration of the Saltworks to wetlands, on the grounds that developing it will:

  • Fill in more of the Bay
  • Destroy opportunities for habitat, open space and recreation
  • Snarl traffic on Hwy 101 and Woodside Road
  • Prevent completion of the S.F. Bay National Wildlife Refuge
  • Place housing on low ground at risk from sea level rise

Now all of this is true (though it overlooks the small detail of the Saltworks being private property, meaning that turning it into a public space means buying it from the current owners, probably to the tune of a few hundred million dollars). But pointing these facts out, and utterly ignoring the good that could come, goes a long way to reinforce the general public's perception that environmentalists care more about wildlife than people. Very few people can afford an $800,000 house in Redwood City, and an awful lot of people are enduring pretty grueling commutes to get there (40,000 people commute into the city daily).

It also reinforces the slightly more nuanced view that people who call themselves environmentalists are often way more concerned with their personal, local, environment than the health of the Earth as a whole--the people who work in Redwood City are going to live somewhere, and if they're not stealing habitat from ducks by the Bay, they're probably going to end up stealing it from kit foxes and other grasslands critters somewhere out around Stockton, and putting a heck of a lot of CO2 into the air getting back and forth.

Here's a good rule of thumb: in a world of problems, if you hear about a proposal that does some good, and you have some objection--you don't just get to say "no", you have to come up with a better idea. Our local Bay Area version will be: if you don't want housing to be built in one place, you have to say where to build it instead. So, for example, if you want the Redwood City Saltworks to be restored as wetlands, you could propose densifying the City's core as an alternative--for example, building a few thousand apartments and condos near Sequoia Station.

Or, if you don't care about other people's problems, at least be honest about being a jerk, and tell them to move to Manteca.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Bikes on CalTrain - Not Just for Hard-Core Commuters

I showed my daughter the ropes last Saturday. We went to Burlingame.

Washington Park, a fairly nice park, is right by the station. An antique firetruck was on display.

The High School is right next door, and this makes a good place to practice biking:

The park also has some good trees for climbing, at least if you're 7!

We had a picnic under a tree, and headed back to the station, and home.