Friday, March 2, 2018


Twenty years ago, I threw the car away in disgust with Seattle's traffic. I had been spending thirty hours a week in second gear crawling from one domestic destination to another. I got enough for the vehicle to fund a rolling backpack and a fresh pair of hiking boots.

Youthful acquaintances in the motorcycle community taught me that no one machine serves all purposes. Bikes are engineered to a given application. I find that ordinary shopping totes are much the same. It's easy to rationalize spending money on gear for a specific task  when I weight the cost against the cost of driving. I count luggage as a transportation expense

I look over the day's shopping list before I choose the tote or rolling luggage that will hold what I buy. There's a factor I hadn't realized in the beginning: checkers and clerks appreciate a new and amusing bag, so I have a good excuse to indulge in something flamboyant. A loud tote has a safety factor, too. It's easy to trip a fellow pedestrian with a dark roller even in what passes for broad daylight on a Seattle winter afternoon. I lash bicycle safety flashers to mine to give fair warning and to protect myself from drivers who don't realize they're not on the freeway -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, March 1, 2018


This is a thrilling time to live close to downtown Seattle and just as thrilling a time to study design posts on the TED website. I was taught to view design as the art of arts, a new way of looking at systems as well as individual artifacts.

It's been my privilege to observe and participate in the renaissance of the American city that was in the worst shape of all in the early Seventies. Consistently, the simplest housekeeping behaviors have had the greatest impact on quality of life on this street that I have studied and maintained since 1972. Controlling litter, dog waste, and parking while calling in noise ordinance violations keep the peace. 

It's foolish to speculate about what comes next, but the simple civic virtues that pulled Seattle through the Boeing Depression of 1970 are not likely to become irrelevant-30-

More after the jump.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018


I have a dim appreciation that "space", as in rockets and sci-fi, is not a discreet vicinity but a continuum. Thinking that way helps me manage the house. During my early years, I was encouraged to read the children's sci-fi written by Robert Heinlein, one of the persons who invented now. Paul Allen read Heinlein, too. During the 1969 moon landing, a network television camera in Rocketdyne's tiny auditorium turns to Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke. Up in the last row, the two authors are laughing like mad, presumably at the outcome of their speculations.

A recurring theme in Heinlein's work is travel or emigration into space. He mentions a thirty-pound weight limit in one of his books: that was a revolutionary concept in the Fifties, when luggage was tuned to the carrying capacities of trains and ocean vessels. Packing a foot locker was traveling light. It took decades for me to realize that Heinlein's thirty-pound limit was the same one used by airlines at the time. Air travel was rare and expensive, and excess baggage fees would have been draconian. Not too many years later, I learned to backpack and discovered that the thirty-pound limit was that recommended for female hikers.

I toted thirty pounds of gear over a good few miles of trail back in my day, and the experiences set my home furnishings compass to ultra-light. Focussing the ten essentials of life support on field gear is a sure-fire way to set up a nimble, economical household. The Great Big Hiking Co-op has references on its web site. Going light and staying relatively light keeps the household nimble and resilient. Thirty pounds gets much more bang for the ounce now: I easily carry a daily collection of life support and communications gear that would have staggered a healthy mule in 1962 -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Signs Of Spring

Last week's icy weather masked the glimmerings of new growth that crowd the garden. There's viable sunlight at work. The day lilies are up eight inches. The lilacs could use a light pruning on a dry day to generate a good screen across the back fence. The lawn is sensational, dense, as green as can be, and as free of weeds as I have any right to expect.

Indoors, I find myself thinking of old school spring cleaning, though fall cleaning makes more sense in 2017. A swipe at the windows and a good dusting don't hurt. It's a good time of year to edit inventory and design rooms to be easy to maintain. Interestingly, I find the eighteenth-century design in which I live and work, and that I restored, to be nearly as sleek and serviceable as the contemporary buildings I visit now and then. My place is lower tech, but that hardly matters in a context in which tech is changing by the minute. A new fused and grounded extension cord now and then seems adequate for keeping up. I manage the house as a shell that enables whatever we choose to do inside. 

Any older building can be handled the same way. The day may be long gone when the local economy supported historic restoration, but a vintage interior can be sleek and simple without drastic remodeling. Sometimes that makes sense, sometimes not. On the West Coast, a building older than 1970 is probably constructed from virgin timber, straight grain Doug fir milled from a tree that could very well have been a thousand years old. The stock is irreplaceable, worth respecting, and the best friend one can have in an earthquake. Straight-grain Doug fir is so hard that drill bits smoke. That's how to tell what you're working with. The lath and plaster that covered the lumber is more fireproof than wallboard, I am told.

Seattle painter William Cummings pointed out to a Seventies drawing class that "a little funk goes a long way". Local radio station KEXP has new digs at the Seattle Center that are funk on. The management remodeled a historic corner of the 1961 Worlds' Fair site to serve as a social space for the community that supports the station. It's a frugal, high-tech big room with, apparently, not a nickel wasted. Electronics rule, as does superb public transportation, coffee service, and a casual gallery that trusts visitors not to vandalize the unframed works that hang from a wire curtain line. The cement floor of the space reflects changes in use. It could look patchy, but it's decorated with painted stencils that are only the better for the wear and tear they are beginning to show. 

Somebody got it more than right when they mounted classic iron table legs under Seventies stereo tuners and turned them into end tables. The gathering space is as far as I will ever want to go in setting up an interior for the way I enjoy living -30- More after the jump.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Urban Beachcombing

I've enjoyed quite a few months when the tide set the rhythm of the day. Dawn and evening walks on the beach gave me a chance to study the litter of the sea. Living in town and traveling by bus is little different, although the flotsam is lighter and the jetsam often doubtful to handle.

I very much enjoy sallying forth in the morning to study what the day has brought. Friday saw legions of people wearing all black on the street. I love observing costume that is all black, because silhouette becomes everything. It's a valuable education in designing to get the most out of an existing wardrobe and the most out of forthcoming purchases.

Making the rounds of my usual stores keeps me up to speed with the market. Taking coffee in a regular spot allows me to get a sense of the pulse of that particular urban village and of what personal gear is serving the needs of whomever is around that day.

By the time I make my way back to the house, I have a satisfying picture of how things seem to be going and, usually, a light load of supplies, not all of which were on a shopping list. The most valuable  things I bring home are the ideas I observe -30-

More after the jump.