31 July 2008

EnviroHint #2: Pay Attention to the Thermostat

Unless you are still operating a wood-burning stove or use blocks of ice to cool your living space, chances are you have a modern, programmable thermostat. Many people already realize that programming their thermostat to maintain a higher temperature for AC or a lower temperature for heating during the day while they are at work will save money on energy. Think about it - the less the unit has to kick on during the day, the less energy it expends, and therefore you pay less money. But when you come home from work, think twice about cranking the air conditioning all the way back down. Do you really need every space in your home to be that cool, all evening? If you are only occupying the first floor of your home for the majority of the night, try leaving the air up a few degrees....remember that warm air rises, so chances are you can cool a first floor with less AC and with a small fan, if you are a little warm (a floor or table fan still uses less energy than a full-blown air conditioning unit).

One thing you might not realize is that anything you place around your thermostat also impacts its sensors. A modern thermostat is quite sensitive, so if you have a lamp or electrical equipment near it, it might think the room is warmer than it actually is, and force extra air out to make up the difference. The opposite effect will occur if you have something near or around the thermostat that would act as insulation. It might think the room is perfectly fine while you are either freezing or burning up.

So, in short, pay attention to your thermostat! It needs maintenance just like any other piece of technology in your home, and when dealt with carefully, it could save you lots of money.

29 July 2008


I was trying to decide what to write about today, and then we had that little earthquake about 40 minutes ago, and I thought, "well why not!"

The first earthquake I ever experienced was a 2.6 in New York in the Fall of 2001. It felt like someone had thrown a large appliance off the top of our apartment building. It was already a rough year for NYC and when we had that earthquake, it was kind of like, 'really? Earthquakes too? Anything else, God?'

Of course I moved to LA last summer so I wasn't around to experience the Great Midwest Earthquake of 2008.

So the 5.8 earthquake today was my first Southern California earthquake, it seems. At first I thought someone was wheeling something heavy down the hall, and then my coworker darted out the door, and I was like, 'oh earthquake, OK.' Having never done this before, I jumped up and yelled, "What do I do?" HA. We evacuated the building with our emergency kits and now we're all back at work. Well, I'm getting back to work now.

Yay building codes! ;o)

Update, 8:12 pm: I had to post this hilarious picture from CurbedLA. The earthquake really wasn't that bad but that doesn't stop the media from talking about it.

23 July 2008

EnviroHint #1: Do Your Dishes Right!

A few weeks ago, I promised to start talking a little bit more about simple ways to live a healthier and more environmentally sensitive life. I'm going to be taking cues from various outside sources and trying to integrate them with my own experiences and the experiences of friends and family. I have the tendency to lean towards the vague in my own general writing, but for the purposes of these posts, I will be as specific as possible.

For my first "hint", I will reference a tiny booklet from Vanity Fair magazine called A Green Guide to Life and its list of "50 Ways to Help Save the Planet." Today's discussion addresses #3 on that list and something that ALL of us have to deal with: doing the dishes. According to Consumer Reports,
"pre-rinsing dishes does not necessarily improve a dishwasher's ability to clean them. By skipping the wash before the wash, you can save up to 20 gallons of water per dishload."
Interesting and I did not know that. But what if you don't have a dishwasher? Then you have to hand wash your dishes in the sink. Well my suggestion to you, whether you wash your dishes in the sink or the dishwasher, is not to pre-rinse but to let them soak before washing. Basically it's like all those dish soap commercials say....they are concentrated to "cut through the grease"..... but no matter what type of dish soap you use, all you need is a little dollop and then some water to soak on the soiled area of the dish. To give you an example, I find that this works particularly well with dishes that have had oatmeal in them. Oatmeal gets crusty quickly and is hard to wash off. If you stand there and scrape at it by hand for 30 seconds or more, you are wasting more water than if you fill the dish with a little water, let it stand and let the crusty bits soften for a while, and then go back and wash it properly in just a few seconds (when the old food presumably washes away).

This is kind of gross and not terribly "wonder-full", but I've found that it does save a little bit of water and that's the gist of the discussion. Also to my Mother, who for many years has thought I was trying to avoid doing the dishes entirely....this is what I was doing! Soaking them!

21 July 2008

Los Angeles and the Art of the Picnic

Time for another installment of random observations on Los Angeles culture. For a city with a near-perfect climate year-round, you can tell when summer actually arrives by the amount of events that start popping up which are picnic-friendly. Cinespia is the name of the weekend classic movie screenings in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Every Thursday night, there are concerts on the pier and beach in Santa Monica. Hollywood Bowl is the picturesque venue for concerts set in the hills just north of the Walk of Fame. All of these are staples of LA's summer calendar, and at each one of these events, a picnic is not only encouraged, it's desirable. And when I say picnic, I don't mean peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and grape juice.....I mean, a spread. I mean, brie, prosciutto, olives, and Italian red wine. I mean strawberries, potato salad, cupcakes, and beer. And did I mention red wine? I've attended a show at each one of these locations in the past few weeks, and each picnic got progressively more and more elaborate. That said, there is nothing quite like enjoying a glass of cabernet and some hummus and pita with 3000 of your closest friends. Below, the scene at each.

The view at Cinespia

Picnic at the Hollywood Bowl

Did you think I was kidding?

The Bowl in all its glory

18 July 2008

Personal Manifest Destiny

To quote Wikipedia, Manifest Destiny, for those of you unfamiliar, was "the belief that the United States was destined to expand from the Atlantic seaboard to the Pacific Ocean."

I've always thought that this was a rather anti-climactic definition for what was otherwise a really cool-sounding concept. Kind of lame, even. Say it out loud: "manifest destiny." Sounds super cool, right? And then you find out that it's just about acquiring territory in the birth of our country, and while that's impressive, I want to use the phrase for something different.

I am therefore proposing a new concept, which I will refer to as "personal manifest destiny." This is my belief that the people of the United States are destined to expand their minds and capabilities from the Atlantic seaboard to the Pacific Ocean. This is a rather fruity way of saying that I think Americans are capable of a lot more than what we're doing right now. Maybe it's NAFTA, and the export of jobs to China and India that have got me thinking.....we're supposed to be a society of self-starters, entrepreneurs, and innovators. And lately - OK, in the last 30 years or so - I feel like people have gotten lazy. This is not an accusation or a criticism on any one group or thing in particular, but just a philosophy that I've come to settle on. I feel like one of the reasons that Americans have evolved into such voracious consumers is because we have no idea how much it takes to produce whatever we consume. We've outsourced those jobs and most of us never see the inside of a manufacturing facility.

All of this meandering thought on my part is to say the following: I think Americans have forgotten what hard work is like. I think we could benefit from learning a trade, taking an apprenticeship, picking up a hammer, or getting a little dirty. I think there are many people in this country with unrealized skills or gifts that would flourish in jobs they may have never considered before. And I think this realization is going to be critical in the months ahead as the country flounders in - just admit it - a recession like we haven't seen in a long time.

Our grandparents made it through the Great Depression AND fought a war that saved the world. What have we done lately? Gone to Starbucks? I think it's time we roll up our sleeves, take a deep breath, and get to work. Embrace your personal manifest destiny, and find the work that is fulfilling to you, and hopefully it is helpful to society as well. Americans are capable and intelligent people* and we'll come out better for it on the other end, as long as we persevere.

*I can't vouch for people who voted for Bush twice. I wouldn't describe these folks as intelligent.

15 July 2008

An Elusive Goal

I just got back from Hawaii. When I arrived there for the first time in March, I saw rainbows - in the sky, on their license plates, on the sides of buildings. In fact, it is one of their state symbols. So I decided that I would get a t-shirt from Hawaii with a rainbow on the front.

This proved to be a most daunting task. All I wanted was a t-shirt, with a rainbow on the front, that said "Hawaii". On my trip in March, I searched each day, and asked many friends and shop keepers if they had such an item. No one knew where to find this. I found this quite strange being that the rainbow is their state symbol. When I went back to Honolulu on the 4th of July, I was even more determined. Each time I passed a shop I looked through stacks of t-shirts, and came up empty. I even went to a vintage shop, and couldn't find anything. The best I could do was this unfortunate looking item.....it's not even a full rainbow, and besides that, it's ugly.

As it turns out, I had to go all the way to Maui to find a t-shirt that fit the description. On the second-last day of my trip, I found this lovely item.....it doesn't say "Hawaii" on it, but it does refer to Paia, Maui, which was my favorite little town on the island and the place where I found the shirt.

So, thanks to Paia, for actually getting it. And here are some more photos from Maui, where we explored the northeastern coastline and biked down the dormant volcano, Haleakala. It was awesome!

The world's largest banyan tree in Lahaina, Maui

Eastern Maui from the West side

On the road to Hana

Looking into the crater of Haleakala

Looking back on Maui from the road up Haleakala

04 July 2008

Declaring my independence

We've just passed the one year anniversary of the launching of the wonderSphere, so I thought it might be a good time to sort of reiterate what the heck I'm doing and why, and perhaps give a little more direction to the blog itself. Let's review....this time last year, I:
  • Quit my job working as a project manager at an architecture firm
  • Sold my car
  • Bought a bike
  • Packed up everything I owned in a truck and moved to Los Angeles
  • Started grad school at USC
I started this blog for anyone and everyone who was interested in my progress, and I've also used it to talk about things I am passionate about. But the reason that I do this, and really the reason I went back to grad school, is because ultimately I am passionate about trying to use my God-given gifts to make the world a better place. Yeah, I know.....it's such a cliche. But it's true. A few days ago I checked the stats for this blog and I saw that I was getting an average of nearly 70 views a day.....that really amazed me, not only because I didn't imagine that that many people could think I was interesting, but also because that meant that I had the chance to tell up to 70 people a day something new, or interesting, or something that could help them live a healthy, more efficient, more earth-friendly life. So ultimately what this journey is about for me is trying to figure out how to become independent from all of the unnecessary hardships that our consumer society has brought upon itself - like a great experiment. And in turn, I share my experiences with others in the hopes that someone will be inspired to do something extra to help change their world for the better.

It's along the same lines of what I am trying to accomplish in my graduate thesis. I've mentioned it a few times on here but never elaborated too much....essentially with my thesis, I'm focusing on residential architecture, because I think homeowners have the potential to make a huge impact in the fight against global warming. But as much as we need to reduce global warming, I think we also need to prepare for it. So with my thesis, I'm going to see if there's a way to effectively communicate with the American homeowner about how they can change their home to make it more energy efficient in the simplest and most cost-effective way possible. It's a huge task, or as my thesis advisor likes to say, it's a "big bite." I know this, but as you might be able to tell from my other blog, Living in Los Angeles Without A Car, I am not one to shy away from a challenge.

In the weeks and months ahead, I've decided to intersperse academic and personal updates with helpful hints about how to live a more environmentally sensitive life. I know this is the "popular thing" to do right now, but if you 70 people a day don't mind reading about my adventures horseback riding, then I figure you won't mind extra posts about changing your lightbulbs and what not :o)

Happy Independence Day, folks, and here's a fun fact: only 200 days left in the bizarre, unfortunate, and sad chapter of the country's history known as the Presidency of George W. Bush. Here's to hoping we change the country for the better in our quest to save the Earth!