Thursday, April 30, 2009

In Defense of My Parents

By way of apology, because I forgot my mom sometimes reads my blog, we all could do better, couldn't we? And we all pick our own battles to fight. I choose to focus on the environment and leave problems such as the educational system to other qualified people. I previously blogged about this concept, tikkun olam. I should not expect everyone to be green.

And we are far from perfect environmentally. I was listening to an interview of people talking about energy efficiency and conservation and they kept mentioning how not wasteful they were, but during the interview they also disclosed that they had 7 TVs, at least one of which was on for 8 hours a day, and they didn't even have CFLs - because they supposedly never use lights even though she does dishes and laundry while he works the night shift. (They also went on and on about immigration problems, so I am trying not to let that bias my opinion of their energy beliefs.) We probably make these contradictions ourselves.

In fact, the other night we bought dishwasher detergent for the first time so Matt wouldn't have to wash the dishes by hand any more and could spend more time with me after work. There is somewhat general consensus that fairly efficient dishwashers use less water than handwashing, but our dishwasher appears to be somewhat old, and Matt was very careful about handwashing frugally. I also suspect the dishwasher will use more energy since we can't turn off the drying cycle and have to remember to stop it ourselves.

We and our neighbors choose to live in a cheaper part of town that requires the city to provide us with a community bus, useful to no one else but those of us who live here. Probably wasteful.

For the last 6 months, I have been driving my car to Marin once a week or every other week because I didn't want to transport my bike on two buses.

And to share the blame, although I previously praised my sister's housing choice for being eco-friendly, she did buy a 2500 square foot house.

So we're all not perfect and we all make tradeoffs. I apologize for offending my parents and for anyone else who read that post.

A friend recently told me that I was her favorite vegetarian because I didn't preach about it. I'm sure no one likes to hear me preach about the environment either. I do feel like taking some actions to help the environment is very important for the future of our world and our species. However, I also feel like many of those options improve my quality of life. Less stress from not driving, healthier eating choices, fresh air. So I would like to share those benefits with others. And my blog is my soap box. But I should only inform and suggest, not judge, and therein lies my error.

The Last Days of Spring

"The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." ~Mark Twain

Yesterday I dropped my car off at its doctor, walked a few miles over to Japan Town and ate some inari outside by the Peace Tower before getting my hair cut nearby. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera on this mini-venture.

Then I decided to walk home, since it was a nice day, one of my last days of freedom, and swine flu probably travels on public transit. I got distracted about 1/2 of the way home by a Jamba Juice, which offered me a no sugar added, dairy free, lovely pomegranate beverage. I sat outside at a patio table, no jacket on, reading a magazine, and realized a massive edifice known as the US Mint rose behind me. (And somehow I've never noticed it before.)

Later on my way home, I discovered a new staircase bordered with flowers, offering astonishing city views, and killing my calves. There were even benches for resting and a water fountain for both humans and puppies.

When I returned home after my 5+ mile urban hike, I discovered I'd been sunburned.

The lovely, warm temperature I have learned, was a whopping 59 degrees.

Maybe I'm getting used to it, just in time for winter.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

How to Score a $7.67 Energy Bill (Including the Green Energy Contribution)

  • Live in an apartment complex with laundry and water heaters somewhere down the hall, and thus not tied to your personal energy bill.
  • Place your electronics on power strips and turn them off at night.
  • Replace your light bulbs with CFLs.
  • Live somewhere you need minimal heat (space heaters turned on occasionally) and even more minimal cooling (fans once or twice a year).
  • We also got a brand new fridge when we moved in, but it does not appear to be an energy star appliance.
Our energy bills in New Mexico in non-winter months could be as low as $20 in our free-standing houses, including one that had a giant refrigerator and in which we had installed a washing machine. However, we did have a frontloader and we did not have a dryer. We did then, and still do now, hang dry all our clothes, sheets, towels, etc. Try it. You'll like it.

Just Watched: Earth

So I confess to not having seen the Planet Earth DVD series. I guess we should netflix it. (Do you love how netflix has turned into a verb like google?) I'm hoping I would like it better.

I realize that Earth was made by Disney, rated G, and therefore directed mainly at kids, but I thought it would be a bit more adult-friendly. Don't get me wrong, the film contained some fantastic images: polar bears peaking out of the den, ducklings falling to the ground and bouncing off the leaves, elephants running into each other. Sadness also pervaded the movie: a polar bear starving to death, an elephant following its mother's footsteps in the wrong direction, baby animals being caught by predators.

However, the storyline jumps around all over the place between species as it tries to follow the seasons. Animals are anthropomorphized more than they probably ought to be, and the narration shoves things in your face that would be best left discovered yourself. However, the narration also fails to identify many of the species, and I didn't find the story very cohesive.

I suspect that your time would be more well-spent watching Planet Earth. I will let you know once I get around to it.

Monday, April 27, 2009

I Need a Cubicle

Since I originally started this blog to document my transition to working for myself, I figured I should update you with my latest life change. Well I guess I have already updated you a bit. And although my web address still says "Who Needs a Cubicle", quite a while ago I changed the blog title to "Discovering San Francisco", in some ways to reflect the content of the blog, and in some ways because I already knew that I wasn't going to last as a freelancer.

So to conclude the saga, I have accepted a job offer with a company called Opinion Dynamics, working on evaluations of energy efficiency programs.

When I first started looking for jobs instead of freelancing, I focused on jobs that involved communications and writing. This job only involves those aspects as much as any job does, in the writing of reports. The job focus will be more on my analytical and research skills.

I guess this just goes to show that you never can tell. Although I loved writing, I have discovered I love it more as a hobby than as a job, and I plan to return instead to what I do best. Solving problems.

So ends the saga; from here on out this blog will just be about my life outside of work. Which is really the most interesting anyway.

Thanks for all your support as I gave freelancing a whirl.

Out and About on a Sunday Afternoon

After Matt's softball game, we stopped at Japan Town for some lunch. I was pretty sure Matt took a picture of the famous tower, but instead he seems to have been distracted by the People Rental sign.

Later we went to Mission Dolores Park to enjoy the sunshine. Along with the rest of the city, apparently, including a large array of hula hoopers.

I'm pretty sure both the park and JapanTown are City Walks, so consider this just a sneak preview.

City Walks SF #28: Buena Vista Park and Beyond

More parks and rich people neighborhoods. Buena Vista Park features snails, flowers, stoners, and pretty views.

(FYI, I am not the stoner, despite how I may have ordered my description and pictures.)

Another pretty pedestrian walkway at the end of the super rich Ashbury Terrace neighborhood:

And more pretty views from Corona Heights Park:

(Looking back to our house below the twin towers on Twin Peaks.)

City Walks SF #27: Cole Valley and Ashbury Heights

This walk is very close to our house. Cole Valley is really the only other place we can walk to besides the Castro. We picked up a baguette at La Boulange and some tasty cheese at Say Cheese (including Pepper Havarti - delicious) and checked out the natural areas on the card:

Tank Hill:

(It was really windy.)

And where the rich people live above UCSF:

I love all the staircases in San Francisco. They could have just made pedestrians walk along the roads, but instead there's all these great stair passages. This one even has a street name - Farnsworth.

I'm pretty sure rich people live here because the road is paved with red bricks. Oh, and that's me on the other side of the road. And old lady warned me in hushed tones that someone was taking my picture. How thoughtful of her...

And the road dead ends in a grove of eucalyptus. Gorgeous but oh so flammable.

Maybe if we were rich and worked at UCSF (because I'm pretty sure you would have to drive anywhere else - not too close to public transit), we would live in this gorgeous, quiet part of the city too. Very cute!

Friday, April 24, 2009

So Close to Greatness. Or, How An LA Times Story I Almost Worked On Won a Pulitzer Prize.

A big congratulations to Julie Cart and Bettina Boxall, awesome environment reporters at the Los Angeles Times. They won a Pulitzer Prize for their series, Big Burn, about wildfires.

Here's my question: Had I, as my editor first suggested, chosen to spend my summer doing research on the wildfire series instead of reporting and writing my own stories to get clips, would I have some tiny small share of a Pulitzer Prize?

Ah, the choices we make.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Oh, Smuckers. How You Disappoint.

I am a PB&J fan. I have it almost everyday for lunch if we don't have leftovers. I like it on Safeway O Brand Seeds & Grains bread with Safeway O Brand creamy peanut butter. But I've been having a hard time with the jam. All the organic or natural stuff is either ridiculously expensive or actually preserves, it seems. And folks, I don't eat crunchy peanut butter, so I certainly don't want, for instance, WHOLE blackberries in my sandwich.

So in a moment of desperation, I picked up the smooth jam, my childhood staple - Smuckers. As I was looking at the label today, I realized that this jam contains not only high fructose corn syrup, but also regular old corn syrup and sugar. YUCK!

Sometimes I forget why I like to buy organic food. Sometimes I think I am just doing it for the environment or it is now just a habit. And I forget that actually eating gross ingredients like corn syrup stinks.

Here is my advice: never stop reading labels.

Now, could someone please suggest for me a tasty, not chunky natural or organic jam?

PS Will you miss me when I have a job and can no longer blog about my super exciting lunches?

PPS Is 11:20 too early for lunch?

The National Parks: America's Best Idea

Last night Matt and I were lucky enough to see a sneak peek of this upcoming 12 hour documentary series made by the famous Ken Burns (and see an interview with Burns and Dayton Duncan, above). We saw just one hour, and it was fantastic. The clips reminded me, in so many ways, of why I once upon a time switched my major from engineering to outdoor recreation. I had become kind of tired of engineering, so I decided to add a minor in recreation management. One of the classes I took was REC 480: Wilderness and Parks in America, taught by Dr. Randy Virden. After sitting through classes of history and democratic ideals, learning about John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, and other historic figures in the movement to create National Parks, I was hooked. I never took another engineering class. The idea of National Parks may not have been this country's best idea, but surely it was one of our greatest - preserving magnificent landscapes for the enjoyment of the public, not just the rich and powerful. I believe this idea was truly empowering for our nation.

I could go on and on, but also you could see this film for yourself. Mark your calendars for September 27.

I was expecting a film of beautiful landscapes and maybe some history, but what surprised me is the focus this film also has on race. I know they will discuss the dispossession of the Indians that occurred in order to get some of the park lands, and we also saw clips that dealt with the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and their relationship with National Parks. I nearly cried.

This film will open your eyes not just to the history of the parks themselves, but to American history. It will discuss topics that are often left off the table, or brushed quickly aside, as they were in my classes. Ken Burns said the film deals with two themes, race and space (as in physical space, not outer). I think that in the end, the film will probably demonstrate that this country has made some terrible mistakes, but at least we have made a few good decisions as well, and perhaps the parks are one of those good decisions that have in the past, and hopefully will continue to, provided solace to some of those dispossessed and persecuted.

What a great film! I am so excited to see it in its entirety.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In Honor of Earth Day

Ah Earth Day, the day we use to engage non-greenies into the more environmentally-friendly world. What did I do for Earth Day?

I took the bus/BART down to Millbrae to meet my dad for lunch, an hour long trip that would be 1/2 hour by car. Of course, my dad drove from San Mateo to Millbrae to pick me up, then drove us down to San Mateo to eat (because apparently you can't eat in Millbrae?) then decided he would drive me home so I would not have to deal with the public transit. Trust me, there is no point in arguing. Meaning he then had to drive back home to San Mateo.

What I'm wondering is why he didn't just come to the City in the first place if he was going to drive here anyway, saving me at least an hour of my day. I mean, I really should do some work.

And also, why is it so difficult to change your family's values? I think I would have better success convincing any single person I met on the street to make an environmental change than I would with my parents. In fact I know this, because I have tried with my parents. And often failed. Yes, they recycle, and we have done so for as long as I can remember, probably because Michigan has had a bottle deposit for years. They also have fake grass in the backyard, mostly because my dad got tired of mowing the lawn. And my mom often brings her reusable bags that Karen and I got her to the grocery store. But that is about where the greenness stops.

I don't think I can even convince them to buy a front-loading washer for their brand new "villa", because they won't be paying the water or energy bills, so they have no monetary incentive. And I certainly can't convince them to drive less. They think public transit is a burden for me, when I often do it because I prefer it to driving.

Anyway, today I did take a cowboy shower. That is my pathetic little earth day celebration. And tonight we are going to a preview of Ken Burns' upcoming documentary, "National Parks: America's Best Idea." (Obviously we'll get there on the bus.)

And that is my earth day. How is yours?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Fortunes, Fortunes

In case you didn't know, fortune cookies were invented in San Francisco. Natalie and I took part this weekend, revealing these spectacular fortunes.


(Well, at least we know one of these is true...)


(Also known as: You suck. Try harder. PS Natalie: Good news! I remembered to capture your fortunes for posterity. And fulfilled one of your fortunes! I'm so helpful.)

Also, proof that 87 degrees in the sun in San Francisco is hot:

Hope you're having a good week!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

City Walks #23: Ocean Beach

We didn't do too well on this Walk either. We managed to miss the first part, where we were supposed to visit Sutro Heights Park, so I guess we will have to go back there sometime.

We did check out the Dutch Windmill and Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden in Golden Gate Park, across from Ocean Beach, and we had some beer and snacks at the Park Chalet.

Not the greatest day to visit the beach though. (UPDATE: we just learned that today the high was 87, a record, and there was no sign of fog at Ocean Beach. Weather, I shake my fist at you.)

City Walks SF #22: Lands End

Continuation of the Coastal Trail. There were some pretty views through the fog, and the Sutro Baths looked particularly neat. A camera malfunction added some artistic pictures. However, we skipped the Palace of the Legion of Honor and the Holocaust Memorial, because we thought it was too nice a day to be inside.

City Walks SF #21: The Golden Gate Bridge to Baker Beach

It was 70 degrees and sunny when we left our apartment. This is what it looked like when we arrived at the Golden Gate Bridge.

This is what it is supposed to look like:

We pressed on through the fog, walking the Coastal Trail to Baker Beach:

(There is a naked man at the bottom of this sand ladder. See if you can find him.)

A brief moment in the sun:

A little fog never deterred the children:

A little chilly for a walk on which we expected lots of sun, but I enjoyed myself anyway, and I think Natalie may survive not having seen the bridge.

Natalie Comes to Town

This weekend, Natalie came to visit. I dragged her all over town, including some City Walks.

Here we are, leaving the neighborhood:

Watching the Dbacks get beaten by the Giants:

And relaxing in Golden Gate Park:

Today Matt and I are doing absolutely nothing for once, and starting to get hot in our 85 degree apartment. Crazy weather!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Ice Plant Bloometh

(Don't click on the pictures - they are horrible big. My 4.0 mega pixel camera can't even shoot across the parking lot without crappy digital zoom...)

See the pretty purple flowers? Unfortunately they are invasive. However, while I know the plant is bad for beaches and dunes where it prevents natural movement, maybe it's okay on our little hill if it keeps it from falling down?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

UC Berkely Extension: So Much Learning, So Little Time

UC Berkeley Extension just came out with their latest course schedule, and along with it, several new programs in sustainability studies.

You may recall that just over six months ago, I started this blog because I was tired of working for the man and had decided to run off to the Bay Area to write about science for the National Park Service. I was going to be self-employed. (In retrospect, I probably just took the first out from a job I hated - I loved the work I was doing but could not stand the politics, game-playing, and lack of ethics in the agency.)

Alas, I have realized that self-employment is not for me. I do not feel comfortable selling myself, I hate negotiating fees, and I am not the best at keeping track of money. More importantly (I tell myself), I have discovered that writing about things that other people have done bores me. While my Times fellowship was endlessly fascinating, I now believe it was because in a way, I was doing first hand research - interviewing sources and piecing stories together. (And that is why the Science desk was not as exciting to me as the Environment desk.) Now I just read reports and summarize the research other people are doing. Not so exciting. I have always enjoyed writing, so I guess I thought that would be enough, but as it turns out, I love research too.

So. I have been looking for a job (gasp!).

I have the luxury of being selective for once since Matt is making enough money for us to survive, even here in SF, so the plan is to find a job I really love. The problem is, all I am really sure about right now is that I want a job that allows me to utilize both my research and communication skills, and deals with resources in some way - preferably water or energy, and even more preferably, the conservation of them. (Oh and the other problem is the lack of jobs right now.)

In addition, I have always been interested in the more broad topic of sustainability and sustainable or green design. So I am currently taking a class at UC Berkeley Extension called "Overcoming Barriers to Implementing Sustainable Change." Love the topic, but still don't feel like I have the experience or skills to be a broad-based sustainability coordinator for an organization. I think I may want to be more specialized. So I was thinking of taking more classes, and maybe even getting a professional certificate.

Here's the new problem: Extension added a bunch more sequences this semester, but they don't overlap much and don't have electives. So I could wind up taking a variety of classes that interest me and never obtaining a certificate. Or I have to really focus my career goals right now. Just for example, the options are:
Since I have always had a wide variety of interests, I have generally just looked through job ads and applied to ones that sounded interesting. I think now I need to be more proactive - decide what I want to do, start meeting people in the field, and even waiting for the perfect opening if need be. I am also thinking of refreshing and improving my Spanish or beginning Mandarin because so many job ads in this city prefer a second language.

If anyone has any ideas about what I should do with my life, or how to focus my interests, I am all ears. I still have a few exciting job prospects right now, but I am not holding my breath in this economy.

I think I always thought two degrees really should be enough, but the job market is so tight right now that your education and experience have to be super-specific and relevant to the job description. And unfortunately there's not much of a market for water resources dynamic simulation modelers.

Bo, the White House Dog

I feel a little guilty reporting on something so trivial, but anyway, who wants to talk about pirates?

The Obamas' new dog is a purebred Portuguese Water Dog, a gift from Ted Kennedy. But the dog is not a shelter or a rescue dog. It was $2000.

Now, how you turn down a gift from Teddy is beyond me, but I do feel a bit miffed that the First Family did not choose to rescue a dog. I know, I know, first a vegetable garden, then a shelter dog. It seems like we're expecting the family to set examples in their daily lives that past Presidents have not been burdened with. However, I think that is a burden you place upon yourself with a campaign that promises so much change. Oh, and when you say you will get a shelter dog.

And now there are worries that less-than-noble breeders will start churning out Porties to meet a new demand caused by Obama emulators.

Okay, I know I should be worrying about the economy and the wars and all that other stuff, but here is a subject that you know WAY more people care about, and now an opportunity has been missed to teach the public that they do not need purebred dogs. So polite I am, with that passive blame.

I will give the dog a little credit though - he sure is cute!

In Line at the Library

Last Friday, I stopped at the library to return some books before meeting Matt for our walk across the bridge. It seemed like there were an awful lot of people outside, so I walked toward the door and discovered that on Friday, the Main Library of San Francisco does not open until noon. I rounded the corner and found even more people waiting at the next entrance. While waiting, an international visitor struggled to ascertain from me why the library was closed - I had no good answer for him. And when the doors finally opened, people streamed in from all entrances, including a humongous throng of people from the one I had not walked by yet. It sounds like I could have gotten a better picture over there.

Matt thinks they were all waiting to run towards the best computer for porn-viewing. I hope not.

On a side note, I took this picture with my cell phone and sent it to an online album. There may still be hope for me entering the 21st century. (I wonder how much that cost?)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Spring Softball

Yesterday I finally attended one of Matt's softball games. And instead of getting mercy-ruled as per usual, they only lost 4-2. Matt made some nice catches. Here he is:

And some pretty flowers we saw on the way home:

Last night was the Moby Dick Easter Party/Fundraiser. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures, but hopefully I will be able to obtain some from others. Matt spent a large chunk of the night walking around selling raffle tickets to the boys and then helping Kitty Glamour with the drawings. He got lots of attention. I won a gift certificate to an Italian restaurant nearby that is supposed to be delicious, and I also quasi-won an ipod shuffle and a liquor basket.

I didn't even buy any raffle tickets, but people who left the bar before the drawings kept giving me theirs. I had a humongous pile of tickets. Unfortanately the ticket that won the ipod belonged to someone who came back to the bar, so I felt guilted into giving him the ipod. Matt told me he would buy me one, but I don't think he really meant it. And then another guy was helping look through all the tickets and won the basket with one of them. All I got out of it was a bag of jelly bellys. And the promise to buy me drinks the next time we are at the bar, because the basket also included a gift certificate. Somehow, I don't think that will happen either. And I'm pretty sure we might have won more things, but Kitty wouldn't wait long enough for us to look through all of our tickets after she called a number. Alas...

It was a good time. The captain's boyfriend even dressed up and sang as Reba McEntire because they made enough money. He was a good sport about it - and I wouldn't even have known it was him, if, of course, I hadn't known beforehand.

Unfortunately, I felt rather guilty that they were raising a bunch of money for their team instead of a worthwhile charity. Oh well. The whole thing is really just a gimmick for the bar to make a lot of money. I'm pretty sure it worked.

So anyway, I spent my Easter sitting in a bar next to a drag queen. How was yours?