Posted by: janineplusbrianequals | November 2, 2009

Kai- likes and dislikes…

This is a smoka dallarm:

z smoka dallarm

Smoka Dallarm

Kai does not like the smoka dallarm when it goes beep.

z -plug ears

Kai still plugging ears. (5 minutes after the alarm stopped).

Kai does like balls and treats:

z - kai with ball



Kai also likes roof top cows:

z -cows

We found these roof top cows on a walk and Kai wanted to take a picture.



Posted by: janineplusbrianequals | November 1, 2009

uh oh! (“poetry”)

Since my readership has declined on brilliant and relevant environmental postings (which even include pictures!) I have turned to poetry in a a desperate attempt to retain readers.

Tramping Tigers is a response to Blake’s,  “The Tiger” in Songs of Experience. (Hopefully my readership will pick up before I am forced to also respond to “The Lamb“).

Tramping Tigers

Untamed Tigers tramping about.

Unsteady Toddlers, tantrum and shout.

Ungrateful Teens, prance and pout.

Unkept Youths, wander and doubt.

Untamed Tigers tramping about.

Unkept Adults, grumpy and stout.

Ungrateful Seniors with illness bout.

Unsteady Age-ed on their way out.

Untamed Tigers tramping about.


Pardon the layout because I don’t know how to use wordpress. Pardon the punctuation because I never learned.

Posted by: janineplusbrianequals | October 30, 2009

Verticle Villages: Visual of land savings (Part 2)

Cooked up with the help of google maps, paint and some fast and loose mathematics I offer you the following visual representation of what kind of land savings we’re looking at if we were willing to build upwards rather than outwards.

The following pictures are based on several assumptions which I will not go through exhaustively. In short, my vertical villages are about 12-14 stories high. I think  my estimates are conservative and relatively accurate but you also have to remember that I was doing measurements by mouse on google maps. Despite being off by quite a bit, you will see that we have ample room for error while still coming out far ahead of housing developments.

Here’s what I’m looking at:

post 2. image 1. close up on suburbs

A. Suburbs. Houses, parking lots, roads and a little commercial

This picture shows about 208 single family houses, some commercial buildings and parking lots and a whole bunch of streets connecting it all together. Look like home? The image covers approximately 0.408 sq km.


post 2. image 5. closer shot with vv.

B. Same area showing the approximate footprint of vertical villages.

Image B is the same area as A but with five blue squares representing the approximate footprint of 14 story buildings. These five buildings could provide the same amount of floor space as all of the residential and commercial needs in this area.


post 2. image 2. large suburban image.

C. Larger image of suburban development

Don’t be deceived by figure C above. Those several, nicely wooded areas are older housing developments. Under the trees is a network of little roads and single family houses. The open spaces are almost all sports fields, golf courses and a couple parks. This area is about 15.583 sq km.


post 2. image 3. blocks taken by different uses

D. Space Required. Blue - 14 story, multi-use skyscrapers. Orange - private driveways. Red - public parking lots. Magenta - roads and sidewalks. Pink - Residential Housing

Figure D also shows about 15.583 sq km of open space with a little agriculture in the bottom right. On top of it are placed blocks representing the footprints of various functions. In a world of vertical villages the blue block is the majority of what is required. There would be a couple roads or rail also required. The four blocks on the right are what our current suburban development style demands. I have not included the footprint of commercial functions, the majority of which could be included within the skyscrapers. I have also not included the largest land requirement of suburban development – yards. The way we break up and divide yards and put them all to energy and water intensive mono-culture lawns dramatically reduces the land’s ability to support wildlife (other than geese, squirrels and a few others). In either the case of vertical villages or conventional suburbs, the buildings must be spaced from each other. Thus in either case the actual impact on the land would be larger than visually shown. However, the multiplying factor of spacing is far more significant with 7904 buildings than it is with 190. That is why we end up with landscapes like image C above rather than image E below.


post 2. image 4. vv distributed

E. Distributed Skyscraper groupings.

In figure E we have again taken a parcel of land about 15.5 sq km and this time distributed skyscrapers across it. The red line connecting them represents rail or road connecting them to each other and to other cities. The red line is far larger than scale – you can see the size of an actual road on the right of the map. (We’ve doubled the space required for the vertical villages to account for the spacing between buildings).

The purpose of this post has simply been to visually demonstrate the size of footprint required in these competing approaches to land use because this is the most dramatic argument in favor of vertical villagation. In future posts we will look at additional advantages (and disadvantages) to this type of settlement.


post 2. image 6. NYC picture

F. A section of Manhattan

Image F above is the same scale as all but A and B above.  Its shows an area where land is already intensely built upwards. Interestingly, however, there are still several (many?) areas of Manhattan where buildings are not above 12 stories. This vertical village proposal is really not aimed at cities. However, pressure could be taken off urban areas if surrounding areas were more efficient in housing and transportation. A goal of any vertical village is that the total footprint (the cluster of skyscrapers) not exceed a couple blocks…the distance one can easily walk in under 10 minutes. NYC does not meet this requirement by the long shot.

And finally, to help you visualize the type of 12-14 story building which could replace the suburbs without decreasing your floor space, I give you figure G:


Ashton Judiciary Square. 12 stories in Washington

G. Ashton Judiciary Square, Washington DC


P.S. – I’m just getting an obsession off my chest and I don’t actually know what I’m talking about. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts.

Posted by: janineplusbrianequals | October 30, 2009

Vertical Villages: stating the case (part 1)

Where do we begin the project of rational land use?

skyscraper foundation

foundation of the future. Maybe.

When will we stop paving and building over the best farmland in the area?

best philadelphia farmland

Top farm land in PA (Philadelphia)

How can we replace the most energy-ridiculous style of living?

ugly suburban sprawl overhead2

pretty winding roads, terribly inefficient use of land

This is likely to be the first of several posts where I discuss one of my current leading obsessions.

I began thinking about the idea of building up rather than out when my brother Lincoln first described to me the concept of “vertical villages.” (I don’t know whether its his term or not). The idea has stuck with me over the years and been fueled by the thinking, writing and speaking of others since. (Tom Hylton is a particular favorite).

Recently, as I bike through the elegant and disastrous suburbs of Etobicoke, Toronto every day, the idea has captivated me. Most days I use the commute to make up numbers about houses and skyscrapers, then multiply them and attempt to do comparisons in my head. I’m sure the math is terrible but the obsession continues. Every other morning I wake up thinking about how much garage space and materials we could save if we cut our use of riding mowers by ¾.

lots of riding mowers

much too much

My solution is blogtherapy.

The basic premise is that we drastically reduce our footprint on the land by replacing suburban homes with beautiful and efficient skyscrapers.

I know that you (just as the market has till now) are likely to reject this idea for one of several reason which pop to mind. Fine. Through pictures and facts (loosely related to reality) I will make the case anyway.

If I do succeed in selling you on vertical villages then you may assume, as most do, that the easiest and most efficient way to achieve the goal is through government intervention (coercion).

I don’t make that assumption, as you may know.

Certain countries have used government zoning to achieve results which I appreciate.

edge of amsterdam

Amsterdam's development is contained, leaving room for agriculture.

However, my assumption is that the misguided efforts of government are as likely to do harm as good.

For example, our amazing highway system in the USA, has enabled (and, as it were, subsidized) the wide spread sprawl of suburbia.

Also, most areas use zoning laws to strictly separate commercial and residential. This leads to 2 and 3 car families and far less walking.

So are you hungering for more – wondering if you can be convinced to give up your indulgent suburban lifesyle?

The goal is to demonstrate that vertical villages do not only offer incredible environmental advantages but also offer greater desirability to the consumer and economic viability for the developer*.

chrysler building

A beautiful future? (Chrysler Building).


* I don’t really know if any of these claims are true. But we’ll find out.

Posted by: janineplusbrianequals | October 28, 2009

kids and monsters…(“Kaimonsters” for short)

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to scare little kids? (Maybe its just the effect I have on them).

Yesterday’s time spent with Kai (who has just recently passed the 2 mark) involved a whole bunch of chasing and smiling and throwing. Outside we chased each other through big piles of leaves, he would offer to carry my dress shoes and then throw them into the road.

Inside, once we managed to get his clothes off I had to chase him in order to put first his diapers and then his pajamas on as he bounced across our beds. He would throw pillows and bite the sheets.

After we finally had his pajamas on I would jump across the bed to catch and tackle him. He was smiling broadly, shrieking and obviously enjoying it. But then I noticed that he had this slightly nervous, crazy excitement in his eyes.

Even though I hadn’t been growling or making “angry” faces I asked him if Papa was a monster. He shrieked “yes!” with delight and fear in his eyes.

I wonder why.

I certainly remember this type of relationship with adults. Almost anything that was exciting was also a little scary. I don’t know whether I specifically invited my imaginings of monsters or whether they came automatically. Why do kids like to be chased? Are they early adrenaline junkies? Or maybe practicing to survive in the jungle?

Maybe Where the Wild Things Are will shed some light on the subject.


Posted by: janineplusbrianequals | October 27, 2009



Why do we only have one, borrowed French word for such an important concept?

You could say that “niché” has a special niché carved out for conveying the meaning of “niché”. (But that’s sort of a silly thing to say).

The “How to Make a Business Successful” people almost always seem to include a reference to niché. They say something like, “figure out the unique thing that you do and do it well.” Or, “you have to find your niché market.”

Uniqueness strikes me as an inherent and beautiful part of creation. Heaven and Hell by Emanuel Swedenborg says that “the perfection of heaven is the result of variety” and that the “variety gives delight” (HH 56).

The same work also says that in heaven “there is infinite variety, and never any thing the same with any other” and that each person or angel is distinct from every other (HH 41).


Everyone is unique...

So if we are inherently unique and if it makes for good business to commit to our unique strengths, why don’t we?

A) I notice that I have a strong desire to be involved in everything. This seems to come out of a lack of trust in other people to take care of things. Every day of my life I depend on an immense number of people working in concert to deliver my basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter and yet I still tend to mistrust other people and suspect that I should at least have oversight of almost everything that goes on in this world.

B) The number two threat to contentment with one’s niché is a worry about being left out. “Maybe people are having fun in some other room, or some other conversation, town, country, profession etc without me!” Not unlike the first threat, this second threat seems to be the down-side of the same manic-depressive coin. In the first case, I am a megalomaniac needing to control everything because of a super-inflated sense of self-importance, in the second case I feel so little confidence in my intrinsic value that I assume that everything and everybody is more interesting and significant than me.

C) A third issue seems to challenge our ability to settle into the niché which is us. We seem to be addicted to variety and excess. Maybe this simply follows from the first two problems of egoism but I also think that stimulus and variety addiction has taken on a life of its own. I’m sure I will speak more on this subject later – it is a fascinating and expanding challenge for people in this internet epoch.

There are many places we could take a discussion of “niché” but for now I would like to just end with a namby-pamby, truism of post-modern, bleeding heart society. “Love yourself!”

Seriously, can you love who you are? I’m not saying you’re great as is, I’m just saying, it is worth looking at whether you like who you are. You are a unique person with unique ability to contribute to society. If you don’t like you who you are you will keep squirming in your niche’ – unable to settle down to the tasks you are best at. Likely you will try to avoid your life through distraction and medication.

Since I believe so strongly that we are uniquely valuable and important I think it follows that we should learn to be comfortable with ourselves. And if we ain’t…maybe we need to figure out what our conscience is so dissatisfied with.


Posted by: janineplusbrianequals | October 26, 2009

decisions, decisions…Convergent and Divergent Thinkers (part 1)

I have an uncle who likes to say, “life is about choices.”


That seems to be an accurate way of summing up the experience of life and so I have decided to offer my dear reader(s) some thoughts on choice.


There are two kinds of people in this world: those that divide the world into two types of people and those that don’t. Since I am a committed member of the first group I find it very useful to divide the world of decision makers into two kinds.


There are convergent thinkers and divergent thinkers. (These are not my own terms, but unfortunately I don’t know who to credit).


We can think about these two categories of people in numerous different ways. I particularly appreciate Dylan Hendricks’ elegant and humorous characterization of Black/White thinkers vs Shades of Grey thinkers.


Another description I hear regularly is the idea of writing or drawing using the creative, non-critical “right” side of the brain. Here are a couple of examples just for illustration – (I haven’t read nor do I endorse either of these media).


Showing up in this dichotomy (whatever it is called) are two parts in a choice making process. Every action we take has numerous choices going into it. These choices involve both divergent and convergent approaches. My goal here is to look at the two processes separately.


A convergent thinker is someone who comes to conclusions. He sees the world in terms of factors and answers. His thinking tends naturally to decide between possibilities. He is good at settling, producing, bringing into effect, completion, and contentment.


A divergent thinker is someone who comes to solutions. He sees the world in terms of possibilities and questions. His thinking tends naturally to generate multiple solutions around any given question. He is good at exploring, broadening, improving, beginning and creativity.


A convergent thinker falls into close-mindedness, idea foreclosure, and staleness. He is likely to think he understands things better than he does, and accept his understanding as the best there is.


A divergent thinker falls into paralysis, confusion and depressiveness. He is likely to worry that he doesn’t understand anything and couldn’t possibly move forward or arrive at an adequate understanding.


Here are some diagrams (in an effort to keep you reading).

Convergent Thinking

Convergent Thinking

Divergent Thinking

Divergent Thinking

Alright, hopefully you get the idea. No person is actually defined entirely by one or the other of these categories but I think we can fairly accurately see people as leaning more to one side or the other (at a given period in their life). We could call them “rock people” and “water people”. The first promotes stability, the second promotes change.



Posted by: janineplusbrianequals | October 26, 2009

decisions, decisions – why does it matter? (part two)

Knowing that I can’t count on children of the internet to read more than 450 words in one sitting I have kindly broken this post into two installments. Here is number 2…


I want to talk now about some of the ways that the convergent/divergent dichotomy perspective is helpful.


This perspective helps with something – I don’t really know whether to call it “choices” or “problems.” “Choice” is a word that convergent thinkers are more comfortable with because it has connotations of a selection between alternatives. On the other hand, divergent thinkers prefer “problems” which imply questions and puzzling over possible solutions.


Let’s try, “results.” The convergent function produces results while the divergent function ensures that the results have value.


Where should I travel on vacation? What summer job should I take? How can I make this company profitable? How can I get my two-year old to stop hitting me? How can this planet support over 6 billion people in a sustainable, aesthetically pleasing and enjoyable way?


These, and any other question which seeks a result, can be addressed successfully if one uses both convergent and divergent thinking effectively.


In the extreme, a convergent thinker is simply picking between existing answers to a given need. He will pick one and it will be the best one. Unfortunately, he is limited to those answers already available. Those that he has already seen in action, that have already been used in the given context. Since a divergent thinker focuses on the question (or need) she will produce endlessly more solutions for as long as she is given the time. Odds are that these new solutions will give the convergent decision maker better material and result in a better final decision.


The divergent thinker is involved in something that can be called design. Design is the process of combining and integrating familiar things to present something unfamiliar. It allows people to picture and imagine things in a way they never have before. Since people will only do things which they can already picture (with very few exceptions) it is vital that the design function plays a role in our lives. Otherwise, we will remain within established patterns without growth.


Hopefully, it is clear that both these processes happen within every person. I’m just suggesting that awareness of both can help us make sure that we are not neglecting one or the other.


Now let’s consider this dichotomy as it shows up between people rather than within a person.


Perhaps you have be told that you need to know your strengths and weaknesses? This way you won’t waste time and energy doing things that you can’t do as efficiently or effectively as someone else. I subscribe to this advice and suggest that knowing whether you are convergent or divergent by nature is one of the easiest ways to see and benefit from “strength-sharing” with other people.


If you know yourself to be more divergent, it behooves you to identify the convergent people in your office. You know you need help coming to conclusions and moving forward. These people, by nature, will always have quick, self-assured answers. Armed with your knowledge of the convergent-divergent dichotomy you can protect your creative, idea generating process from being steamrolled by the convergents in your midst. And you can also go to these people when its time to make a decision and move on.



Posted by: janineplusbrianequals | October 23, 2009

billion dollar challenge!


Most are probably familiar with BNL song “If I had a million dollars.” Well a million is good enough if you just want some play around money but not for our purposes here today! (Heck, you can’t even live off a mill these days).

No, a million is not enough, nor is 100 million. With a hundred million you could put all your friends and family up in style for the rest of their lives, but that doesn’t change the world.

I want you to picture that you had a billion dollars at your disposal. (Personally, I’m always drawn to 3 billion, but we’ll make do with a simple billion).

How would you make the world a better place? You can define and defend your concept of “a better place” but I want to hear something personal –  your plan for dealing with the issue that most presses on your mind.

Pitch your goal below in the comment lines. You may enter in one of the following two categories: For-profit or non-profit.

If you choose the for profit route, you need to include a plan for paying forward the principle within 15 years.

Once I have received enough* entries I will choose the winners based on my feelings of the moment.

I will then personally approach the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on your behalf. In all likelyhood you will have your billion dollars of seed money within the month.


Humorous and/or brief entries are welcome. This is, after all, a joke. (But a joke that you can take seriously).

* If you have an awesome entry and are impatiently waiting to win the billion dollars, just encourage others to enter. The sooner we have enough entries, the sooner the judging will take place.

Posted by: janineplusbrianequals | October 23, 2009

who says what’s Kosher?

I don’t actually mind who establishes Kosherness but Scott Coney presents a useful issue today on He asks “Should Eco-Labels Come from Government or Third Party Private Organizations?”

Basically he looks at the wide array of different eco-labels and the pros and cons involved with providing this labelling service through the government or through 3rd party companies. He seems to decide in the end that government should play a key role.

I certainly appreciate his bringing this discussion up as it is an important one. There is a growing population of consumers who want to make purchases that are either good for their bodies or good for the earth (or both). Individual consumers cannot do the necessary leg work to check out every product they buy.

Hence, reliable labels are desirable and valuable to consumers who wish to be discerning. These labels are a key part of real, widespread change in the way we use earth’s resources.

Clearly, reputation is everything for a would-be label company. Companies offering this service have a huge incentive to protect, maintain and develop recognition and esteem for their label. 

This natural incentive is not necessarily built into similar governement labels. These labels instead rely on budget support from politicians who in turn rely on campaign donations, much of which comes from large corporation.

USDA organic

USDA organic

An example is the USDA organic label.

Whether USDA innocently understaffs their certifying department or sells out politically, they make mistakes: (ie Horizon Debacle). Certainly third party labels also make mistakes, but I’d argue that their incentive to catch and clean up their mistakes is much higher.

The only advantage I see to government labels is that they can draw on the instant brand recognition that comes with a monopoly. There is only one US government, no others are allowed. Thus when the federal government has an opinion on what makes a product healthy, for instance, it is the only official government opinion. Everyone has already heard of the US government and in many cases are used to thinking of it as a (reliable?) authority.

This instant name recognition and basic trust is very useful for promoting certain information. My argument is that this monopoly status (offered only to national governments) drastically reduces accountability and the drive for high quality information. 

In contrast, a private company must painstakingly establish its name by consistently offering high quality information. Even after a nationally recognized reputation is built, like Consumer Reports, the consumers still know that they must be engaged with evaluating the quality of the product.

We have numerous examples of for-prophet and non-prophet labels which have become successful and useful.

We have numerous examples of for-profit and non-profit labels which have become successful and useful.

I contend that consumers automatically tend to place too much trust in the information from government and stop evaluating it for themselves because they are impressed too easily by an “official” position. (Despite the fact that this trust has been repeatedly shown to be unwarranted -see Energy Star‘s failure as another example). In this case, civil servants needn’t be corrupt and evil, they just need to be fallible humans and they will produce mistakes. I want consumers skeptical and on the look out for mistakes.

Let’s be patient with this young eco-boom. The market is there.  Numerous companies are sweating to establish the quality and recognition of their labels. Leaders will emerge and if we don’t have too much complacent, government monopoly labels blocking the market we may find that we get much more dynamic and valuable labels. We can do a lot better than USDA certified organic.


Also, I’m grateful for Coney’s link to which makes it easier for consumers to understand quality labels.


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