Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Goin' Green

Attended one of those conferences today with workshops and a keynoter and chicken. It was the Council of Governments for the Toledo area, TMACOG. The theme was all about the "green wave" and how you'd better get ready to surf it. Things were pretty entertaining, but picked up at the end when two post-chicken keynoters tag-teamed it. The first is President of a college in the Toledo area, Lourdes College, the second the Project Director of the campus of the "IHM Sisters Monroe Campus" in Michigan. They talked and showed slides about buildings that had been built or totally renovated as certifiable "green" buildings, with geothermal heat (pipes carrying water 300-450 feet down into the earth to heat them up and circulate heated water through the buildings), all manner of using gray water, and even an inverted roof that catches and channels rainwater into a holding area for irrigation.

One major point was that this wasn't feel-good stuff. Well, it was, to a point, and it tied in with much of the mission and stewardship goals of the Sisters and of Lourdes, but it was also a business decision. The up-front extra cost of goin' green would pay off in a few short years, like five or six.

I think this is why the green movement is going to take hold in the years to come. It is no longer just the province of tree-huggers. Those who are motivated now by altruism, or a feeling of connectedness to the planet, or whatever, will be joined by those who have calculated the ROI and it meets their investment criteria. It is going to be interesting to watch the Sierra Club joined by the "invisible hand of the marketplace" - some innovative things are likely to be in store. Meanwhile, local governments are beginning to talk about things like how to zone for household windmills.

One speaker earlier in the day, who has a business in Cincinnati, spoke about his corporate center, where the lights automatically turn off when they sense the meeting at hand can proceed just fine with the sunlight pouring in the large windows. This company is adding a "10 kW PV array" (a solar panel on the roof) every year, and on off days like weekends, the place is selling electricity back to the grid. Their goal is zero net energy costs, and they think they can achieve it.

In the spirit of the evening, I returned my name tag to the registration table. Just doing my small part.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Visitor

Our daughter has to attend some teaching conference and her husband has chosen to take Monday off and go with her. But what to do with their lovely Boston/Fox Terrier mix "dog"? Well, the other set of "grandparents" met them for lunch and took the dog, and brought her here to grace our home for the next two or three days.

Our dog (the one on the beach, below) is geriatric, comfortably settling into her dotage, and as with many old folk, is happy to be set in her ways. Then this. A visit from a junior version of the ol' Warner Bros. Tasmanian Devil.

There is only one game for this dog, and it is never boring or tiring in her eyes. Bring "Grandpa" some chewed-up, stuffing-long-gone toy, place it on his knee, taunt him until he goes for it, try to beat him to it, play tug-of-war as if your entire future depended on it, and once you inevitably surrender it to the human, bark at the human until the thing is thrown. Retrieve it with absurd speed, often overshooting it if on bare floor, return it, and repeat the process. At least 750 times.

Here is where dog eventually beats human. For every retrieval, the toy in play (currently a formerly stuffed whale) becomes slightly more disgustingly slobbery. The slobber is cumulative. By around the 27th toss, no human wants to even consider touching the thing. By this stage, I have usually backed off.

But the dog has no discernable sense of the passage, or non-passage, of time. None of them do, as far as I know. So after the dog walks off a victor, she is likely to walk back in for a brand new game perhaps 45 seconds later.

Such is the filling of the empty nest this week. The photo is from fairly late in the game this evening.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Pooch on the Beach

This cold weather makes me yearn for those lazy, crazy days of summer. Here is our dog having a great time on the beach, way back when. I feel warmer already.

Melding Music and the Road

I have the kind of job where you walk out of a meeting at 9 p.m. and you're often two hours from home. Fortunately, I like the road and I like to drive. Last night was one of those nights, and I was embarking from a township hall somewhere south of Lima, Ohio, after spending two hours with a wonderful (snap judgment but perhaps Malcolm Gladwell would back me up), newly formed planning advisory committee.

I hit the road home, a trip of just about 100 miles, give or take, up I-75 and then a hard right at U.S. 30 just north of Lima. I had saved that "one for the road" blend of Diet Pepsi and Doctor Pepper, poured on my way out of an Arby's dinner, and the chilly air had refrigerated it just right during the two-hour meeting, so I was good to go.

30 is an old road with a new alignment in those parts. Two brand new concrete ribbons cut a swath across some of Ohio's most desolate farmland, bisecting the cornfields and soybean fields. This is such a new road that no one's advertising yet, the intersections just contain stop signs and roads - no gas stations, truck stops, or other roadside accommodations - and I'm not sure that the truckers have all found it or trust it yet. That, or ODOT has just wasted beaucoups millions of hard-earned, teeming workers' tax dollars on a road to nowhere.

But it goes somewhere; it takes me halfway home, spitting me out at the Route 53 exit approaching Upper Sandusky, which, while actually south a good ways from Sandusky proper, is in fact up the Sandusky River from its northerly terminus into the Sandusky Bay and Lake Erie.
Moonlit trips on extraordinary roads like the wonderfully smooth, sparsely traveled, and remarkably surreal and featureless U.S. 30 cry out, at least to me, for a soundtrack, and if I am in my car, I am always prepared. My car is my number one listening post for music, even if the acoustics are so-so and the ambient sound can be distracting. For this drive, I pop in a hitherto unheard CD burned from an emusic mp3 of Andrew Bird's nearly year-old Armchair Apocrypha, and it is one of those perfect blends of scenery (full-moonlit rural America) and sound (the massed violins and plaintive whistling that brand Bird's work). The trip home becomes a travelogue, a documentary, and the drudgery of the drive home becomes top-notch entertainment.

It rarely happens this well. One other excellent blend I remember was a trip home from Cleveland Hopkins Airport, watching fleeting suburbia beyond the shoulders while cranking a CD by Univers Zero, a Belgian outfit whose music can take on the entire weight of the human condition. It can be great stuff in the right context.

My guess is that Phillip Glass would work for any road trip, even just down to the corner store.

I need to plot my selections more strategically, because when the synergy of sight and sound hit just right, that ho-hum commute becomes a transcending experience, even at $3.05 a gallon. Since tomorrow's a Friday, I think I'll cue up my new purchase of Stevie Wonder's greatest hits for the trip to work. I recommend something upbeat for a Friday. I would not start my weekend with Univers Zero.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Exhausted already. The good people at blogger say you can be taking off in five minutes. Certainly, the process is as user-friendly as it can be, in my estimation. But then I get to this "name your blog" screen and my screen goes blank. I tried a few of those clever ones that evidently many have tried before me. Tried "thistitleistaken" and it was taken.

I finally reached deep into my psyche and pulled out "streetpolo". Street polo is a game a friend and I created in our youth while trying to cope with suburban adolescent angst. It involved objects at hand - croquet mallets and a tennis ball. We'd chalk a court and mid-court line, with a three foot long goal at each end. A player, going one-on-one, had to reach the opposing player's court, hit the ball against the curbs on both sides of the street, then shoot the ball into the goal (and then chase the ball down the street), while the other player was defending and trying to strip him of the ball.

I thought the most elegant rule was that the game was divided into four periods, and each period ended when a car drove by. The venue was a relatively little traveled side street. However, some games were over very quickly.

Although the blog is named for this game, it is doubtful that the game will be mentioned again here.