30 April 2009

Greenbuild 2009, here I come....

Personally and professionally, this is probably one of the coolest things to happen to me, and a great way to cap off my short but incredible stint at USC.

I am pleased to annouce that I will be moderating a panel of “green blogosphere voices” for a session at Greenbuild 2009 in Phoenix in November. The panel was put together by my Archinect e-friend Barry Lehrman and my cohorts are as follows:

Cameron Sinclair (Presenter/Panelist): Architecture for Humanity / Open Architecture Network

Jill Fehrenbacher (Presenter/Panelist): Inhabitat.com

Quilian Riano (Presenter/Panelist): Archinect.com / gsd-ecologicalurbanism

Barry Lehrman (Presenter/Panelist): Archinect.com

Emily Kemper (that’s me) (Moderator) (Presenter/Panelist): Master of Building Science, USC / www.greendesigncollective.com

Very exciting! Stay tuned for updates on what we might discuss and what big plans we have for “green” blogging :o)

26 April 2009

Random Los Angeles

I'm catching up on all of my photo uploads and I've seen some interesting things while out and about lately. Most of them I captured with my iPhone. Here are some highlights from the past several weeks.


This is not a subway station. OK, well it is, but it's fake. It was planted down the street from me a couple of weeks ago for filming of a pilot for a TV show. On the other side, where the entrance would be, was just sidewalk. (Is this even a real subway stop? Can anyone from New York verify?)


This is the interior atrium of the Central Library in Downtown LA. It's a lovely building and it sits directly across from the US Bank Tower, aka, the tallest building west of the Mississippi. Apparently someone tried to commit suicide by jumping from the top level this past week. Luckily it was a few days after I had been there.


This is the new School of Cinematic Arts building at USC. It's ugly. In my humble opinion, anyway.


This is "S'mores Cake" from the excellent Nickel Diner, right behind my apartment building. It is utterly delicious. The blue light is a blowtorch, which they use to "toast" the cake ... the result is a wafting smell of S'mores throughout the diner!


Speaking of fire, there was a controlled fire on campus at USC the other day. Totally random! I found out later that it was a physics professor who was demonstrating some principles of heat transfer by firewalking. Cool! I want to take that class!


Speaking of heat transfer, yesterday my classmates and I went on a field trip to a solar farm way out in the high desert. There we saw fields holding 770 sun-tracking solar panels that produce a total of 1.9 megawatts of electricity per year. They supplement the electricity needs of a place called Bolthouse Farms where they help to grow carrots. Super cool!


Speaking of field trips, today I went with some friends to the Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park. We went on a quest for a friend's birthday to find Blinky the Friendly Hen, and also got to see the gravesite of the MGM lion, as well as a number of other interesting pets, including this family of "Mitzis". We found it amusing that Ed and Bill had a succession of Mitzis but strange that they, from 1970 to 1982, had concurrent Mitzis. That must have been confusing for Mitzi(s).

So there you have it. Random, right? That's Los Angeles...

19 April 2009

Shameless plug

Oh, look, I just posted another blog post at my Web site, the GreenDesignCollective. I wonder what it is about...? :o)

(This is to say that as I finish up school, I will start posting all of my "environmental" blog posts on that site, while I will transition the wonderSphere back to being more of an extension of my brain and life happenings. Whenever I have an important "environmental thought", I will certainly let you know here, of course.)

17 April 2009

Sacramento / I'm really tired

Have you ever been to Sacramento?

I know I hadn't, before today, except maybe to get gas on my way from San Francisco to Tahoe, or vice versa. This morning, I got up at the ungodly hour of 4 am to fly to Sacramento to interview with an energy efficiency research firm that is doing some great work in the state of California and around the country. It was cofounded by a woman who "grew up with the movement" so to speak, after the oil embargoes and energy crises of the '70s. She is a peer to some of my most knowledgeable and respected professors, and I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to meet her and her coworkers, especially after hearing how many resumes they've gotten (hundreds? over a thousand? who knows...). In the end, after conversing at length about my strengths and the work that the firm does, she acknowledged that the two positions they have available right now might not be the best fit for me, since they don't really do any sort of designing or even consulting with architects: their work is primarily number crunching - magic with Excel, if you will - and shaping the codes and efficiency standards that architects use and the utilities companies strive for. She THEN went on to refer me to about 10 other companies she thought of that I might be interested in working with, and she gave her blessing to use her name as a reference. Bonus! I mean, bummer that I didn't get a job, but I appreciate that she recognized that I have something to contribute (I'm also going to pretend that she saw a creative fire in my eyes that might be better used for something other than magic with Excel.)


The capitol looks like what a capitol is supposed to look like

But enough about that. Sacramento is an interesting place. No, really! The airport - whose free WiFi I am enjoying right now - reminds me of Anchorage, AK ... or maybe Lexington, KY. Not sure. The sunshine-y, fragrant, and green city center, around the capitol building, is quite lovely and brought me back to Honolulu's lush capitol grounds. Their light rail system reminded me of Portland ... the tree-lined streets and curious elevated homes struck me a cross between New Orleans and Philadelphia ... the flat landscape took me back to Chicago ... and the farm land surrounding the city proper was distinctly Southern Ohio. What a strange place! It's like a collision of every pleasant memory I have about our country. And the bikes! The bikes and bike lanes - not to mention the motorcycles and scooters - were all over the place. No wonder Facebook told me that I should live there after I took the quiz "What California City Should You Live In?" (I'm half kidding; those Facebook quizzes are usually rubbish but this one was unusually robust).


Looking back along the Capitol Mall from the statehouse.


Looking up into the statehouse dome.


Very California.


Just in case you thought we were kidding.


Never seen vernacular like this before....


So pretty!

Anyway, I'm exhausted. I'm going to go try and stay awake until they board my flight. Ta.

15 April 2009

Façades on Film

I wrote a post last year about a ridiculous frat party that I went to at USC, and in it, I talked a lot about façades.

Compare that to the picture that I snapped yesterday of a real-life building façade just down my street. Someone's been filming in my neighborhood again, but this is the first time I've seen a whole brick façade erected with a fake building behind it. The space behind that brick façade is normally a parking lot.



Crazy, right?

14 April 2009

Death by Car

I'm so saddened by of all the bad news about people getting killed in car-related accidents lately. First there was the story of young Adrianna getting hit and killed by a car next to USC ... the driver then actually pulled over so that the passenger could get out and push her friend Marcus off the hood. (Marcus, thankfully, is alive.) Then there was the story of Los Angeles Angel Nick Adenhart, who was killed by a drunk driver just a few hours after pitching the best baseball game of his very young life. Not to mention we've had at least two notable car chases here in Southern California in the past couple of weeks. (Apparently this is a regular occurance here.)

Naturally I'm feeling a little bit skittish around cars these days. Not having one is great for a number of reasons but it also means I have no control over the car I'm riding in, although I have definitely been a much more alert passenger recently.

So imagine my surprise when I just read this headline on the NYTimes.com: Study Says Small-Car Buyers Sacrifice Safety for Economy.


from left to right: Smart ForTwo, Toyota Yaris, and Honda Fit. Image courtesy of the NYTimes; please don't sue me, I gave you credit...

My immediate reaction to this was perhaps a little unconventional; "clearly," I thought, "this is a ploy by other car companies to prove that small cars aren't meant for American roads." THEN I kept reading the article, at which point I found out that the head-on crash tests were actually conducted at 80 miles an hour - 40 miles per hour per car involved in the crash. Well, duh! If you're crashing head-on with someone at 80 miles an hour, you're going to be quite lucky to survive in any situation. The article says that the midsize cars into which the small cars crashed "fared well or acceptably". That, I think, is even more remarkable. How much do these midsize cars weigh? How over-engineered are they so that they can absorb that sort of crash?

And ultimately my entire thought process has led me to this: the idea that the time of big, heavy and totally unnecessary oversized cars is over. We tried it, folks, and it just doesn't work. Sure, some people need those giant Ford F150s for hauling stuff to and from their farms; but when was the last time you saw a farmer going 90 miles an hour down the highway? I suppose some people, like the Duggars in Arkansas, could justify the use of a couple of big Expeditions, but even they use a recycled church bus or something. What I'm trying to say, generally, is that I think we pushed automobile technology to the limit and now it's time for us to pull them back to a place that is reasonable, fuel-efficient, and safe.

Case in point: motor vehicle collisions are one of the top ten leading preventable causes of death in the United States. This doesn't even occur as one of the top ten worldwide causes of death, however - the rest of the world is still concerned with things like malnutrition.

So I guess my point is, go ahead and read the article about the poorly performing small cars. But before you automatically jump to the conclusion "well I guess I'd better get a bigger car since it's safer" maybe you should pause, and instead think to yourself "maybe I ought to try to be a better driver and make sure I'm never in a situation where I'm going 40 miles an hour head on into another vehicle." Because the car companies have proved that they are utterly incompetent and unable to adjust the needs of a changing economy quickly enough to put more small cars on the road. Until that time, it's everyone for themselves, and young people are losing their lives.

Ergo ... get off the phone, stop texting, drinking, speeding, putting on makeup, playing with your dog, etc. Because if you hurt somebody with your car, you may as well have shot them with a gun - and you deserve whatever punishment you get.

12 April 2009

Late to the game.

Ok, so this is going to come off as a bit weird but I really never hold back too much on this blog so I might as well mention it.

One of the reasons why I've been slow to blog lately is because I've been listening to Harry Potter books on CD (ripped to MP3s). Books 6 and 7 to be exact, and for the second time. I realize I'm a bit late to the Harry Potter game, but once I got into it - by listening to Book 6 on my long drive to California two years ago - I was absolutely hooked. Bewitched, even (magic joke, sorry). I can't get enough Harry Potter! I think it has something to do with the imagination of it all. I'm completely in awe of the all-encompassing artistic vision of J.K. Rowling. The story of how Harry Potter came to her is almost as enchanting as the story of Harry itself, and it reminds me a lot of this wonderful TED Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert on the nature of creative genius. (Just watch it, it's awesome.)

In any case, I find myself consumed with Harry, Hogwart's, Dumbledore, etc. I love listening to the books because I can do that on the bus without getting motion sick. I always watch movies 1 through 5 if they appear somewhere on TV on the weekends, and I think I've seen the second half of the Order of the Phoenix on HBO like 6 times. And the other night, I actually dreamt I was an actor in one of the movies! OK, so maybe I'm a little bit obsessed but there's something just sweet and comforting about the whole series. It reminds me of how much I used to read when I was young, and how much I loved mysteries, and it's gotten me excited about reading again - and that can't be bad, can it?

Is it weird that I've been planning on seeing the 6th movie since they announced it last year? Yes? Oh well....

09 April 2009

The Fiction Odyssey

Every once in a while something worthwhile actually happens on Facebook, and today it happens that I saw this note on a friend's page, and it's a great list of fiction classics. The "Top 100" list was supposedly published by the BBC and they postulate that "the average person has only read six" of the books on the list.

A quick Google search has revealed that this list has made its way around the blogosphere and is a popular launching point for literary discussions. However, a detailed search of the BBC's Web site reveals that, while the BBC did publish a Top 100 ranking of the "nation's best-loved novel" as voted on by its audience, there is no such claim of people only reading six of them. In fact, the Top 100 list they give is quite different from the one below.

Nevertheless, I've been thinking lately about revisiting some of the classics, and this list seems a great place to start. Even if it did come from a false internet meme :o)

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
x 4 Harry Potter series
x 5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
x 6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
x 8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch -
21 Gone With The Wind -
x 22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace -
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
x 28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
x 33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
x 36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
x 40 Winnie the Pooh -
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
x 42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan -
51 Life of Pi -
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm -
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
x 61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones -
x 65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
x 66 The Once and Future King - T.H. White*
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
x 74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce -
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
x 88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
x 91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Eupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Aleandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

*There was no 66, so I added my own; it is a great book!

07 April 2009

My average trip to the grocery store.

I just mentioned this in an online forum, and I realized that I had probably never talked about it on here before, so let me just tell you a little bit about my average trip to the grocery store: it's kind of hilarious. I mean, I think if I ever saw myself roll up to Ralph's on my bike, I would laugh at me, anyway. Here's what happens:
  • First of all, I roll up on my bike (remember I don't have a car), and lock it to the bike rack.
  • Then I go into Ralph's, with my right pant leg rolled up (biker style) and all of my reusable bags (no plastic!) in my X-Large Timbuk2 bag on my back. Let's be honest, I'm usually sweaty too. At least that scares away the crazy people.
  • I usually try to limit my haul to a little carry basket, but, failing that, I get a shopping cart (especially if I'm hungry, I'm doomed...)
  • When I'm done, I then go through the Self-scan lanes, because frankly it's easier to bag your own groceries if you know how they are going to be carried.
  • Then I put what I can in my wee bike basket, on my back (that Timbuk2 bag could hold a couple of toddlers), and on my shoulders and bike handles.
...and Voila! Carbon-free grocery shopping. I've been known to bike home hauling over $100 worth of groceries like that! Which I guess from the Ralph's that I go to isn't a huge amount, but it's substantial nonetheless.

I know I know...I'm a nerd.

02 April 2009

Just a suggestion...

...to the State of California, written on the back of an envelope used to send in fees on a tax that I paid late (the fees were actually more than the tax itself)....