Environmentalism is not just for hippies anymore

Thanks to the rise of the popular anti-Global Warming movement, more and more people in America are becoming environmentally aware, even those who would not have traditionally been environmentalists. Car manufacturers are producing more hybrid and alternative energy vehicles. Congress is debating legislation to reduce carbon gas emission. Walmart is selling reusable cloth shopping bags for $5. But is this a good thing?

I imagine that the old guard, hard-core environmentalists feel frustrated that their movement is being hijacked by politicians and consumers wanting to show off their “green” credibility. I think a lot of people are getting in on the movement because it is hip, and not because they actually care about Earth in a meaningful way.

For example, consider the Honda Prius. An owner may buy one solely so he can smugly show off to the world how environmentally righteous he is. In fact, the New York Times reported that 57% of people who purchased a Prius in 2007 did so because “it makes a statement about me.” It’s a fashion statement. If people really wanted to save the world from the carbon-emissions bogey man, they would drive less.

We will have to wait and see whether today’s green chic actually makes a difference. I, for one, am hoping it does. Personally, I didn’t care much about protecting the environment a few years ago, but now, I am starting to think about it more. I hope that we the people of planet Earth can change our ways of exploitation and overuse and become more responsible stewards of this wonderful blue sphere we call home–whether it is fashionable or not.

Tree-Lined Streets

When I visit the old neighborhoods of Salt Lake City or Farmington, I am impressed by the magnificent trees which have grown up alongside the streets. When I travel on those streets, I feel a certain kind of excitement and a connection with nature. I imagine what it would be like to live on such a street.

Besides being beautiful, tree-lined streets are shady in the summer, making for a pleasant walk or stroll. An ancient tree with its roots deep in the ground also acts as a symbol of the dignity and tradition of a neighborhood.

I wonder why more streets aren’t lined with trees. I understand that sometimes, the roots of a tree can disrupt the sidewalk. However, if the homeowner selects the right kind of tree, this will not be a problem.

I suppose I am feeling sentimental not only for tree-lined streets, but for the communities they represent. Modern suburban developments tend to be devoid of trees except perhaps for tiny saplings. New developments, like the trees that are in them, lack maturity and “roots”.

Perhaps with time, these new developments will also have great green trees towering gently over the quiet street, when today’s new developments become tomorrow’s old neighborhoods.

Top 10 Reasons Why Self-Driving Cars Would Be Awesome

  1. Your car could automatically pick up deliveries for you.
  2. Automatic cars could manage to have the optimal amount of space between them, which would make merging smoother and reduce traffic congestion.
  3. Those who are too old or too young to drive themselves would be able to get around.
  4. Drunk driving would not be a problem anymore.
  5. The technology necessary to create viable self-driving cars could be used in many other agricultural and industrial settings.
  6. Your car would be able to easily find a destination without getting lost or making a wrong turn.
  7. Publicly owned auto-automobiles could be used to ferry people from a mass transit station to their final destinations, thus increasing mass transit use and reducing pollution and energy use.
  8. Cars could automatically move aside to let emergency vehicles pass with greater speed and safety.
  9. Traffic speeds would be more uniform, which would increase safety while allowing speed limits to be higher.
  10. You could sleep or watch a movie on your way to work.

I’ve Turned Off Anonymous Comments

If you want to post a comment to my blog, you’ll have to log in now. I was receiving several abusive comments from an anonymous user. Seriously, I am running this obscure little blog, getting 4 visitors per day, and one of them keeps posting garbage in the comments.

I think this is representative of a general lack of politeness and civility on the web. An ordinary person wouldn’t shout vitriolic insults to someone’s face, but when you give him a computer, an AOL account, and anonymity, suddenly he becomes an obnoxious jerk.

Salt Lake County House Prices

I have been watching the local real estate market a lot lately, as I am planning on moving from Kaysville further south, to be closer to my job in South Jordan. As I am trying to sell my house and find another one to buy, here are some of my observations about the Utah market (particularly the Wasatch Front:)

  1. Houses are still way overpriced. Home prices are dropping a lot in other parts of the country, but not in Salt Lake County. The Deseret News reported today that house prices have stayed virtually the same since the same period in 2007, but sales have gone down 42.21%.
  2. The median income for a family in Salt Lake County is $54,470. The median house price is about $240,000. This works out to be about 4.4 times a family’s annual income, which is higher than historical norms. Traditionally, home prices have a ratio of no more than 3 times a family’s annual income.
  3. That means that the median home price in Salt Lake County ought to be more like $164,000. That is a long way to fall before house prices reach an equilibrium based on market fundamentals.
  4. Many REALTORS® are lying about market conditions to trick people into paying too much for a house. I think I may have got the only sane one. One clueless REALTOR® posted the following on the Deseret News website:

The economy is fine in Utah, just not in CA, AZ, and NV. You’ll see that this summer will be a big year in Utah real estate and if you don’t buy a house this summer, you’ll miss the perfect buying opportunity. Get in now while the gettin’ is good!

I think the market will correct itself with time, but that doesn’t help me out much in my personal situation, since I want to move this year. It will be interesting to continue to watch the market and see how it irons out. With prices falling so sharply, a lot of people are going to get hurt if they were left holding the bag.

Polygamy, civil liberties, and the Texas raid on the FLDS Compound

With the recent raid on the FLDS compound in Eldorado, Texas, I have been thinking about polygamy and civil liberties.

I am troubled because of the similarities between the government’s persecution against the FLDS folk, and the persecution against my Mormon predecessors in the nineteenth century. My third great grandfather, Robert Owens, practiced plural marriage and was driven out of Navuoo, Illinois along with the other Mormons. They had to trek across the United States into the wilderness of what would later become Utah Territory, in order to live and practice their religion in peace.

Even after arriving in the Great Basin in 1847, the government continued to harass the Mormon people. They sent an invading army to the Salt Lake Valley in a conflict known as the Utah War. They passed the Morrill Anti-Bigamy act in 1862 and the Edmunds-Tucker act of 1887, both of which were specifically targeted against the Mormon church. It was not until the church stopped practicing polygamy in 1890 that they were allowed to live in relative peace.

These early pioneers suffered persecution by violent mobs and also by government decree. Governer Boggs of Missouri issued an Extermination Order in 1838 to drive the Mormons out of the state, or kill them if they wouldn’t leave voluntarily. The order wasn’t rescinded until 1976.

These events have set a historical precedence of flagrant and tyrannical abuse by the government against the God-given, Constitutionally-protected rights of its citizens. It happened 150 years ago, and it can happen again.

With recent reports that the 2008 raid against the FLDS compound in Texas may have been instigated by a prank phone call, I am greatly concerned about the apparent violations by Texas authorities against due process of law, of the right to habeas corpus, and the protection of individual liberties of the citizens of the United States of America. It is the FLDS today, but tomorrow, it could be anyone. When will we cry out against injustice and tyranny?

May heaven help us all.

The solution to any problem, anywhere, is robots

In my spare time at home, I usually have one or a few projects I work on for fun. When I get my muse, I become obsessed with creativity; my one-track mind can scarcely think about anything else except the function I am working on. This usually lasts until I get excited about something else which takes over my passion like a democrat is going to take over the White House in November.

Thankfully, my dear sweet wife is very understanding of my incessant need to create, and she lets me lock myself up for a few hours a week to work. After this last month of being Mr. Mom, I have come to appreciate this support from my wife more than ever.

Anyway, my latest obsession has been programming an automatic short-story generator. It uses artificial intelligence to create characters and plots, randomizes them together, and churns them out in dry third-person prose. It’s never going to be Jane Austen, but what do you expect from a computer? It’s not like my PC went to college to get a degree in English.

Before that, it was a GEDCOM importer for my online genealogy website, ActiveFamilyTree.com. Sometimes, I would like to build a time machine just so I can go back and tell the guy who created the GEDCOM format about the benefits of well-formed XML. That project is still unfinished, just like most of the other hobby projects I’ve started in the last ten years. If there were a job that involved creating things and never finishing them, I would be awesome at it.

There’s No Accounting for Taste

Yesterday, a client of mine asked me what I thought of his website. I hadn’t quite expected the question, and therefore hadn’t formulated a real opinion of it, so I had to come up with a critique of it on the fly. This was a challenge for me because I had to quickly evaluate the website’s strengths and weaknesses.

Together, we navigated through the website, and I explained elements I liked and elements I disliked. For some of these opinions, I was able to back them up with good reasons: the fonts need to be consistent throughout the site, the color scheme should match, gratuitous Flash should be avoided, and so on. However, with other features, I was only able to say that I liked or disliked them, but couldn’t articulate why.

The client, in good humor, said I was using the “Boyd K. Packer” approach. Years ago, when he had been working for the Ensign magazine, Boyd K. Packer would point out elements in the magazine’s design which he liked or disliked, but wouldn’t offer a reason. This drove the designers crazy. Apparently, I was using the same approach in reviewing the website.

After the meeting, I kept thinking about it. Why do some things look visually appealing and others not? How do you explain why a sunset is beautiful, or why a garbage heap is ugly? How do you explain why a bad design is bad? It feels to me like trying to explain to someone how to swallow or how to breathe. Then again, maybe it’s just a matter of personal style. After all, there’s no accounting for taste.

Life is Busy

It has been a long time since I posted here! Life gets so busy that it is hard to keep up. I find myself wishing to spend more time on projects like this, but, c’est le vie.

My wife is building a stop-and-shoot autonomous vehicle for her Engineering 1010 class at school. It is a pretty neat looking thing so far. I’ll post some pictures when her group is done with it.

The Caves and Civilizations of Draconika

So, I have been spending a bit of my time lately working on a web-based game, The Caves and Civilizations of Draconika. You can see that it is still in its very early stages of development, but here is a screen shot:

It is a wargame, much like Risk or Diplomacy. Each player will start out with a single territory, and will try to become a great civilization through conquest, diplomacy, and trade.

I am using MySQL for the database, PHP for the server-side coding, and Flash for parts of the user interface, including the main map. Although my forte is ASP.NET development, I’m using the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP) stack for this project because:

  1. I’ll be hosting this on a Linux server.
  2. I do Windows/IIS/ASP.NET/SQL Server every day at work, so this is a good way to help develop some of my other abilities.
  3. I’d like to do some fairly involved integration with VBulletin, which is written in PHP.

Now, I’m using Flash for the map and some other parts of the UI, because it can do some pretty cool effects, and it’s faster/smoother than dynamic image generation. Every other web-based wargame I’ve found on the internet looks darn ugly, and I thought it would be cool if I could make one that looks totally awesome.

One neat thing I’m doing with the project is using AJAX and web services to get information from the server dynamically, so you don’t have to refresh the page all the time.

So, keep reading for more news about this project over the next several months. Thanks for reading!