30 June 2008

The City of Angels from all angles

This past Saturday I went horseback riding in the Hollywood Hills, then shopping.....later that night I went to Cinespia at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where I saw Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much (which was awesome). The horseback riding was a big step for me since the last I spent any time on a horse was years ago in the Czech Republic, and I got thrown off....but I digress. Sunday I went biking along the beach from Santa Monica to Marina Del Rey and it was lovely. From the hills to the cemetery to the beach - only in Los Angeles! Some photos below.

My roommate, her horse, and our guide

The Hollywood sign, as close as I've ever been

A smaller Hollywood sign above the horses of the Sunset Ranch

Well, hello there.

This horse jumped for the first time while we were there!

Later, at the cemetery: no horses, just Shauna, Katie, and about 3000 other folks

27 June 2008

Anybody want to bet me?

Scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado think that there is a 50/50 chance that there will be no polar ice at the geographic North Pole at the end of the summer. Apparently they have an informal betting pool going. I am not one to miss an opportunity so I am wondering if anyone wants to bet me. The bet is $5 plus a canvas grocery bag. Winner wins grocery money and bags to take it home in.

So, I am betting that the ice will completely melt away by the end of the summer. If anyone wants to bet that there will be ice at the North Pole by September 21, then you count as a NO bet. If there are multiple NO bets, and you win, you'll split the pot (and the canvas grocery bags). If you want to bet that YES, the ice will melt away by the end of the summer, then please bet YES plus a date. That way, whoever bets closest will win, and we'll have just one winner. IF it melts, of course.

Please register your bets in the comments below. Here I'll go first:

Me: YES, August 25

Anybody else?

26 June 2008

Feels good to be a renter

Now that the housing bubble is less a sphere and more of a soapy mess, oil is up over $140 a barrel, the stock market is at its lowest in 2 years, and the economy is just basically in a huge rut, I would like to congratulate my fellow renters who didn't succumb to peer pressure and buy an overpriced home that costs them $300 in gas a month to commute from. Fortunately I don't think anyone I know falls into that category either, but sadly, many Americans do, and they are now seeing the value of their homes plummet dramatically. 10 grand lost over a couple of years of renting pales in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of dollars some people are watching go down the drain as their house's value simply evaporates. As a self-professed urban pioneer, green economics junkie, and transportation aficionado, I'd like to make a couple of observations to those of you who might consider buying when the market really hits bottom, and those houses are, once again, cheap.
  1. Use your NY Times graphics. I have long been a fan of the outstanding NY Times infographics department, so when they put together an interactive infographic, you can probably assume its going to be top notch. Here, they ask if it is better to buy or to rent, and they let you input all of your own variables. Don't be a tool! Use this tool! (Sorry, couldn't resist)
  2. Don't buy too far away from your city center. Where do you work? Where do you buy groceries? Where do you go to the movies? How much gas is it going to take to get to all of these places on a regular basis in an average month? This is an issue, folks. Gas isn't getting any cheaper or more practical. $140 a barrel oil could be $300 a barrel oil in a matter of a couple of years. But, don't take it from me.....take it from the experts.
  3. Have an environmentally-conscious architect or contractor friend check out the house independently. You would take a used car to a mechanic friend before you bought it, wouldn't you? So why not have someone who knows about buildings check out your home before you buy it? What if it looks great and has a stellar maintenance record, but poor insulation? A severe lack of insulation will impact your energy bills drastically when the seasons change, and the cost of energy isn't going down either.
  4. Chose something with manageable landscaping. Pretty green lawns take a lot of maintenance and use a lot of water. If you're going to get one, and take care of it properly, for god's sakes, at least get a hand-powered lawn mower (see point #2 for why) and don't complain to me when your water bill comes back.
  5. Don't forget to calculate your homeowner's insurance. And don't forget to add disaster insurance if you live in flood, tornado, or earthquake-prone areas. Global warming isn't going anywhere - and the earth is already angry. Add it in and compare it to the cost of losing, oh I don't know, everything, and take that into account.
So, there you go. Not trying to scare you, just trying to point out some realities that we'll have to face in a world with so many changing paradigms. Happy (house) hunting!

Epilogue, 27 June 2008: Treehugger points out that you don't necessarily have to buy OR rent with this great article. So many options!

25 June 2008


This is of very little consequence in the grand scheme of things, but as long as you're stopping by, I need to tell you about these things I've been eating lately called "pluots" or "plumcots". As you might expect from their name, they are 1/2 plum, 1/2 apricot - and 100% tasty. Perhaps some of you know of this fruit hybrid already, but if you don't, I have to say.....they are delicious! I've been getting them from the Farmer's Market on Wednesday mornings and although I walk away with a bag full meant for coworkers, I usually end up keeping half of them for myself because I can't stop eating them. It's nice to know that something good for you can actually taste good too.

image courtesy of seasonalchef.com

24 June 2008

Florida, Florida, Florida

I'm watching Recount right now on HBO (free for 3 months, woo hoo) and it's bringing back some really awful memories. I was actually in Spain during the election in 2000, and I remember calling home to find out what was happening since all the papers were in Spanish and I couldn't read what they said. I was incredibly confused when I found out that there wasn't a president yet, and when I arrived home 4 weeks later, we still didn't have one. That said, this movie is frightening. Then Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris was such a moron. The only bigger moron that I can think of is George W. Bush. And here we are, almost 8 years later, when everything is spinning out of control, and all I can think of is.....Florida, Florida, Florida. Like Tim Russert said, it all hinged on Florida. And maybe if some people down there hadn't been such morons, or if they had done their jobs, maybe, just maybe, we wouldn't have lost over 4100 soldiers in a needless war....we wouldn't be in the middle of a global climate crisis....we would have a justice department that we can trust....we wouldn't have lost the respect of every major ally country on the planet.

I'm so ashamed of the people who did this. I didn't even do anything wrong and I'm ashamed. Can we get an interview with Katherine Harris now? No, forget that, once a moron, always a moron. Can we just have a do-over? Start over from like, January 2000 and go again? Maybe it would look like this:

20 June 2008


It's that time of year again!



17 June 2008


As a follow-up to my recent post about the airline industry's woes, I am delighted to tell you about a new way of flying that finally makes sense. It's called Derrie-Air, and the pricing structure is quite simple: the more you weigh, the more you pay. New routes don't charge a flat fee, they charge per pound. Based in Philadelphia, you can fly to LAX for $2.25 a pound, to Denver for $1.90 a pound, or to Chicago for as little as $1.40 a pound. And if that weren't sensible enough, they are completely carbon neutral! According to their web site, "Derrie-Air will be the only airline that plants trees to offset every pound of carbon that our planes release into the atmosphere." Absolutely stunning! Sign me up!

*Unfortunately, Derrie-Air is not real. It's a product of a marketing stunt. But is it just me, or does this sound really sensible? I mean, I would end up paying more than some but reducing weight - on both planes and people - doesn't sound like a bad idea at all. I'm just saying.

16 June 2008

I won a big check! On a big boat!

In the interest of academic news, and since my journey through graduate school at USC is one of the reasons I started this blog, I might as well update you on one big thing that I've done for which I was recognized over the weekend. Last Saturday night, at the Lumen West Annual Awards Banquet on the Queen Mary in Long Beach, I won the Saul Goldin Memorial Scholarship competition for student lighting design. The total winnings were $10,000, and as the first place winner, I got $5000! And they gave me a huge check to boot. Here is my winning entry board - a small explanation of the lighting design follows.

The program was to design the lighting of a "hip" sushi restaurant. My roommate, Gretchen, helped me with the name of the restaurant, "Miso Pretty", LOL. Since it was a sushi restaurant, I thought that the lighting should be crisp and white so that the food would be displayed in the best possible light. I went backwards from there, thinking about the nature of white light, and how it's made up of red, green and blue light. I used that to separate the restaurant into three "zones", the front/blue room being for private parties or additional dining area, the middle/red zone being the bar area, and the back/green zone being the sushi bar and primary seating area. The banquet along the back wall uses strip LED lights that can be all white, just like a fluorescent tube, or that can change colors to tie the spaces together or create a particular mood. The entire lighting scheme is meant to be flexible, changeable, and energy-efficient. And fun!

Here is a picture of me with the big check:

Plans for the gigantic check include endorsing it with a gigantic pen, stuffing it in my gigantic purse, and depositing it in a gigantic ATM.

Here are some pictures of the Queen Mary, which I didn't even realize was docked in Long Beach until this weekend. This thing is like the Titanic! Except, not at the bottom of the North Atlantic.

I told you it looked like the Titanic.

Here's a shot of the banquet hall with some people in costume. Everyone there was a participant in the lighting design industry in some way, and the theme for the costumes was "+/- 3000 degrees K" which is the color temperature of white light. (Newsflash, designers are dorky! And I love it)

The band that played before and after the awards ceremony was called Magical Mystery Tour, and as you might notice, they were a Beatles impersonation band, with wigs, fake facial hair, and funny costumes. They sounded pretty good too.

Gretchen inexplicably got drafted into photography service by the head honcho of the awards banquet shortly after I won my award. Her knees hurt for a while after, but at least she looked great in that vintage dress!

Shortly after I took this picture, I walked forward several meters and attempted the "king of the world" pose on the bow of the boat. Too hard to do in heels, though.

So, big weekend here! I hope everyone gets to enjoy a big check sometime in their lives. It's big fun. :o)

15 June 2008

Unimaginable loss.

In memoriam, Tim Russert, 1950-2008.

image courtesy of msnbc.com

It's difficult to describe the sense of loss that we feel when someone who lives their lives in the public eye passes away suddenly. I never knew people like John F. Kennedy, Jr., David Bloom or Heath Ledger, but it's hard not to feel sadness, as if this person had the potential to change the world, and their lives were senselessly cut short. Multiply those previous events by about 10 and that's how I'm feeling after the sudden death of Tim Russert. It's just so sudden, and so unfathomable, and it leaves such a massive void.....whether you liked his tone or not, it's hard to deny that his influence on the current and potential leaders of our country was enormous, and he was always tough, and always fair. It's even harder to handle when you hear the stories of how good a father, boss, and person he was. People who are extremely good at what they do are hard to come by; people who do it with a smile, and with such enthusiasm, and with such love for the people around them are just plain rare. And beyond all of that, I mean, he was just here.....like, just a few days ago, we saw him on MSNBC.....and then he had a heart attack, and he was gone. Tim was such a good person and so good at his job, NBC will have a very hard time filling his shoes - he is truly irreplaceable.

That said, please everyone try to lose those extra pounds, and get your cholesterol checked! Stay healthy, be a good person, and live every day like it's your last. Life is too short to let it pass you by.

10 June 2008

Dwell on Design, and why my Google Reader is driving me bonkers

Since school let out for the summer, I've been indulging in one of my favorite activities, which is catching up on current events. Give me access to my favorite news sites and a few blogs to look at and I could stay busy all day, staring at the computer screen. This is one of the reasons I don't partake in fiction as often as I'd like.....most of my daily reading time is spent on politics, economics, or other aspects of real life that usually are, as they say, stranger than fiction.

Lately I've been on a tear adding blogs to my Google Reader, which is my version of a consolidated RSS feed that I'm sure many of you use to keep updated on sites that you like. I think I've got over 25 blogs on there at this point. Sure, 2 of them are mine, and a few belong to friends, but that still leaves nearly 20 blogs that I get updates from every day. I am mentioning all of this because I've been meaning to tell you about the Dwell on Design Conference I went to at the LA Convention Center this past weekend. I took pictures, grabbed some literature and generally scoped out the whole thing. I've been meaning to tell you about it but....I've been too enraptured by my Google Reader, and well, I just got distracted. Now, without further ado, here are my highlights from this year's Dwell on Design Conference.
  • Marmol Radziner Prefab. This pick is appropriate not only because Dwell is strong proponent of prefab housing but also, Marmol Radziner has a blog, and yes, they are on my Google Reader!
  • Mythic Paint is a 100% non-toxic, ultra low-odor paint with no VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Or as they say, safe for people, pets, and the earth!
  • EcoSmart Fire places burn on denatured ethanol and require no flue or hard connection. And they look cool (see below).

  • Noritz tankless water heaters heat water through a heat exchanger and don't require a tank of any kind. They save space and only use the amount of energy required to heat the amount of hot water you require at that time, rather than heating and reheating an entire tank of water every time you need hot water. They therefore use less energy overall, and as a bonus, they have longer lifespans and recyclable parts.
  • Claudia Endler's jewelry designs aren't earth-shattering but they are clean, simple, and reliably modern, and definitely more my style than a lot of mainstream jewelry designs. This ring is typical of her offerings:

image courtesy of claudiaendlerdesigns.com

And here is the strictly pictoral portion of the post:

Look! A solar-powered outdoor shower. Surrounded by panels of pressed vegetation. Super cool!

Sweet, it's like a giant IKEA-style fun house for your backyard! (No idea who makes this)

Who doesn't like yurts?

And now for the ooh and aah portion of the conference....this is a Tesla, the much-talked-about electric sports car that you can own for a cool $90,000 and after waiting years on a waiting list. Despite the hurdles to its release, it is awfully cool. The awning above it is made of solar panels that charge the car, which makes this entire system completely off the grid - and of course, this means no carbon emissions. Yay for progress!

Anyway, there was a lot more but hopefully you get the picture. Lots of good and green design. I'm going to go read this post on my Google Reader now :o)

04 June 2008

Don't Fly American Airlines.

This is so disgusting, I had to share it. American Airlines recently forced a passenger to ride in a urine-soaked seat. I've never been a fan of American, can't quite pin-point why but I've taken a lot of planes in my life and not one of them has been an American flight. But this takes the cake! Like one of the commenters on the post said, "Either deal with it and sit in urine for two hours, or risk a tantrum and playing musical chairs with the following flights? Yeah, that's a tough choice. I might have picked the seat like [your passenger]." So do yourself a favor, save the $15 bag fee and don't fly American! (Sounds ironic when you put it that way....)

Update, June 11, 2008: According to MSNBC, United is the worst airline ever. I don't know....I haven't heard of anyone on a United Plane sitting in pee lately. But it's possible. I'd avoid both, just to be safe.

02 June 2008

What makes an architect, an Architect

As a follow up to my frustration of a few days ago, and in response to the news that Brad Pitt will be "designing" a hotel in Dubai, I've been thinking a lot lately about what separates architects from just anyone who has a good idea for a design. I recently had a brief and vibrant email discussion with some of my college classmates about the subject of licensure after we learned that one of us passed all of the exams and got his stamp. Many of my classmates chose not to pursue a career in architecture after college, and of the ones that did, a smaller number will chose to take the exams. But I'm beginning to think that the ones who chose not to are selling themselves short. What's the point of years and years of learning in a university, and then several more years of internships, if not to ascend to the highest accomplishment of your profession? What if passing those exams is the only thing that truly makes us an Architect?

Some of my friends expressed concern over the notion that gaining a license, and therefore a stamp, opens you up to a whole world of liability, i.e., lawsuits from unhappy clients. And that may be true if you are a sole practitioner but the majority of young Architects won't start stamping their own drawings right away, since many work in larger firms. In fact, the decision to stamp drawings - and therefore assume responsibility - is your right as an Architect. Just because we get a stamp that doesn't automatically mean that we have to start stamping everything we touch. If you work in a larger firm you could go your whole career and not use your stamp, because you'd be using the partners' licenses. But, this choice - to stamp or not to stamp - is what makes US the Architect.

And it's not just passing the exams either....it's the opportunity to pass them. Brad Pitt may be a gifted designer but if he wants to be an Architect, he'll have to go through years of schooling, just like the rest of us. He can pay for it, for sure, but would he put forth the time? Probably not. So in a way I feel bad for him....he can design that hotel but he can't own the design. (And then I think about his gorgeous family and his piles of money and I don't feel as bad for him anymore....)

In conclusion, I guess I'm just thinking that taking those exams - and passing them - is the whole goal of architecture school. If you want to design buildings but you're not interested in an architect's stamp, then why go to architecture school? Be an illustrator, a graphic designer, or just go to law school so you can actually afford to build the buildings you want....and then when you're done, call me. I will definitely have passed the exams by then and you're going to need an Architect to sign and stamp those drawings ;o)

01 June 2008

The Beach and the Mountains

What fun is living in Southern California if you can't enjoy all that it has to offer? It reminds me of those California tourism commercials that the Governator does.....we have a lot of natural beauty in the country's most populous state, and I'd like to try to experience some of it now that I have a break from school. Here are some photos from recent outings - a hiking trip to Temescal Canyon and a relaxing afternoon at the Beach in Marina Del Rey. I know a lot of people make fun of LA for its smog problem, but nothing beats the whiff of fresh air that you get from both the mountains and the beaches here.

mountains + city + beach + ocean

beach + ocean

ocean + beach + city + mountains