Thursday, December 21, 2006

Vision and Innovation

This is from The Economist (March 13, 2004, Leaders: The vision thing) ...
"Visionaries get things wrong because they concentrate too much on the technology, and fail to take into account the way it is shaped by social forces as it spreads."
The article goes on to mention that often the most successful innovations, e.g. the internet, succeed because their inventors ...
"made no assumptions at all about the ways in which it might be used, and so placed very few constraints on its development."

Urban Planning for Peak Oil

There's a great presentation on how we should be thinking about future energy supply in urban and transport planning called "Ten Principles of Post Oil-Peak Planning" (this link downloads a pdf file of the presentation). It's by Tim Moerman from the Greater Moncton Planning District Commission (Canada). I saw it on Planetizen, an extremely useful website for planners.

One of the things I appreciated about Moerman's presentation is that while the conclusions are very serious, the presentation is well reasoned and not a tirade. The main message is that an oil shortage is coming (we'll either gradually run out of oil or there will be a sudden disruption caused by, for example, war), there are not many good alternatives for oil, and that we should be planning for our future lack of oil right now.

It's really a fine presentation.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Early Birds at the Gym

I like to exercise in the morning before going to work. But here in Switzerland the health club we belong to does not open until 8 am. In San Francisco they all seemed to open at 5:30 - if they were not open 24-hours. But it is nice, I share the gym with people over 65! The best part is that the gym has musak - often rap or hip-hop - and I am sure the retirees would die if they knew what the words meant.

Swiss German

One of the funny things about living in Switzerland is that people speak a very strong dialect of German, actually, several very strong dialects of German. Almost every valley seems to have its own particular version. The German we learn in school is High German, and so sometimes people here mistake me for being from Germany - which makes my German friends really laugh ... they say I speak with a Swiss accent!

Thursday, December 14, 2006


Walking by a store in Zurich today I noticed that you can buy a doormat designed to look like a Swiss flag. It made me think, I wonder if some self-righteous politician would sponsor a Constitutional Amendment that made it a crime to do the same with the US flag? Of course Bush and Co. have created a situation where we are, in fact, the doormat for the world.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


It seems to me that one of the biggest problems we have as people is our inability to change and that helping people change is a key role for government. Some examples: totally portable retirement plans, totally portable health plans (the real advantage of National health care is not that it's national, but that it's portable), and unemployment insurance that helps people change to new jobs rather than sticking with the old ones (for example helping farmers shift from growing coffee to more lucrative professions - and not just farming!). Instead many government programs make it harder to change - exactly the wrong response. See Tim Harford's "The Undercover Economist" (great book!) for more about the economics of fair trade coffee and this week's issue of The Economist for their thoughts on "Why ethical shopping harms the world."

Dancing School

My wife was amazed to learn that I went to dancing school for five years when I was growing up in Buffalo New York. We were required to wear white gloves so as "Not to soil the young ladies' party dresses." In some ways it was torture, but maybe that helped prepare us for real life as much as the manners instruction that was part of every class. Also, Mrs. Driscoll hired a great combo to play the music, dressed in tuxedos ... all the great jazz tunes like "Take the A Train" and "Satin Doll" are etched somewhere in my unconscious. I was reminded of dancing school when I heard the Wang Chung song Dance Hall Days recently.


I must admit that in searching the internet for Last Christmas I realized that WHAM! also did a cover version of "Wake me up before you go go" which I really enjoy. But can anyone tell me how the hair works?

Mark Morford and Iraq

I love Mark Morford's column on SF Gate. This morning he described how the US essentially lost the war in Iraq before it started, as he says,
What we don't have is, well, any idea what the hell we're doing, not anymore, not on the global stage. We lost this "war" and we lost it before we even began because we went in for all the wrong reasons and with all the wrong planning and with all the wrong leadership who had all the wrong motives based on all the wrong greedy self-serving insular faux-cowboy BS that your kids and your grandkids will be paying for until about the year 2056.
It is hard for me to believe what a mess we have created in Iraq and hard to understand how we can improve the situation. I mean didn't any of the Bush team ever read Sun Tzu's Art of War? Never fight a war unless you have to!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Last Christmas

On Sunday I heard the WHAM! song "Last Christmas" for the first time this season ... actually the radio station played it several times (why I did not get up to change the station is beyond me, but ...), anyway, I found myself thinking about Nick Hornby's book "About a boy" whose hero seems haunted by the fact that he is living off the royalties of an awful Christmas song that his father wrote (something like Santa's Christmas Sled).

Another of Hornby's books, "High Fidelity," is one of the funniest books I have ever read, I laughed until I cried over several passages, particularly those taking place in the record shop. Both books have been made into movies (also good) but the books are great.

Back to "Last Christmas," it's just one of those syrupy songs you just can't get out of your mind. The only thing worse is the truly awful music video that goes along with it. We saw it on an AirBerlin flight in 2003. I am sorry to say it seems to have been filmed in Saas Fee Switzerland - great skiing, no cars.

I wonder if the WHAM! folks will be haunted like the Hornby character, and I wonder how many more Christmases we will be hearing the song. Not only from WHAM! but from everyone who's covered the song!


As a city planner I feel privileged to live in Zürich. The city is clean, people are friendly and everything seems to work well - especially the public transport system. One of my favorite authors, Alain De Botton, comes from Zürich and in a short story called, The discreet charm of the Zürich bourgeoisie, writes:
"In Switzerland’s largest city, the urge to own a car and avoid sharing a bus or train with strangers loses some of the urgency it may have in Los Angeles or London, thanks to Zurich’s superlative tram network – clean, safe, warm and edifying in its punctuality and technical prowess. There is little reason to travel alone when, for only a few francs, an efficient, stately tramway will transport one across the city at a level of comfort an emperor would have envied."
When my wife and I returned to San Francisco in 2004 one of the things we missed most about Zürich and Switzerland was how easy it was to travel by public transport everywhere ... we could travel effortlessly from our home in the center of Zürich to the top of a mountain in the Alps quickly and inexpensively. In contrast, living in San Francisco without a car is difficult at best. What's really sad is that San Francisco is a place where public transport should be great: the city is dense enough to support good public transport and most people care greatly about the environment. It's a real shame.

First Post

One of the blogs I most enjoy reading is called: "spurgeonblog" by Chris Spurgeon. On November 7, 2006 he published a link to a blog by Russell Davies, an English advertising account planner. Sprugeon linked to Davies' blog post "How to be interesting". Davies' post includes a list of things to do to become more interesting ... something I think we could all use! One of the items is to start a blog. The list was so good that it gave me the incentive to finally try blogging. Let's see if it makes me more interesting!