Thursday, January 26, 2012

Books About Place

A recent visit to San Louis Obispo, the happiest place in America, rekindled my interest in the study of "place". That is, why is one place better than another, and what makes for a great place to live and work and play. So I searched my bookcase for a few titles on the subject that are worth rereading.

James Howard Kunstler's The Geography of Nowhere is a classic that explores the ideas of American place and on the history of development. Don't be put off by Kuntsler's current reputation as an alarmist and world-class pessimist, he was much more reasonable in 1994.

Terry Pindell's A Good Place to Live is now out of print. It was the first book that really got me thinking about the elements that must come together to make a good place. Pindell visits his list of noteworthy small cities and describes why they work well. It gets marginal Amazon reviews, but I thought it was brilliant.

Suburban Nation, by Duany, Plater-Zyberk and Speck, deals with the failure of car-based sprawl and promotes "new urbanism". And it's written by the folks that really popularized the idea.

Finally, and really more about lifestyle than place, is A Reasonable Life, by Ferenc Mate. This book has essentially been rewritten as A Real Life, but I prefer the original. Mate is always an immensely entertaining writer. Here he examines what we have lost in modern America and urges us to reconsider what is important. It will make you laugh and, more importantly, think.

There has been a lot more written recently about place, particularly "new urbanism', smart-growth, etc. But I think the titles above are classics and worth reading more than once. They'll make good company on upcoming flights to Asia and back.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Fish In Taiwan

I just ran across this photo of fish on offer at a restaurant in Taiwan. I ate here a couple of years ago. There must have been 50 types of fresh fish to choose form. There was also a wall of live fish and crabs in aquariums. Fortunately my Taiwanese companions ordered for us. They just wandered among the buckets and coolers pointing to the fish they wanted and telling the server how they'd like them cooked, or not.

I hope the fisheries are somewhat sustainable? We have pretty good seafood market in Annapolis, but nowhere near this selection.

The NYT, Apple, and Outsourcing

The New York Times has a very very good article about Apple and outsourcing. I've sometimes gotten grief for moving the manufacturing of many of VO's products to Taiwan and Japan. The point that the NYT piece makes, and one I've been trying to explain, is that it's not just about wages or even cost. We can and do have simple thing made domestically and at competitive prices, but complex products are another matter. Offshoring today is more often about being able to have stuff made where the inter-dependent factories, the industrial ecosystems, are located.

Working in a city like Tiachung, where many VO products are made, with dozens of factories making bike related products means that there are fastener factories, and CNC shops, and forging plants all within a few kilometers of each other. There are also plenty of engineers to help us design  products. And that's where we have access to the very expensive testing machinery to make sure our handlebars, cranks, and other parts don't break even after a million fatigue cycles.

Our fender factory may not have the machinery to make the special screws and bolts and brackets that we need, but their friends down the street do. These industrial ecosystems, or manufacturing clusters, are what companies as diverse as Apple and Velo Orange require to be competitive. They are also what needs to be nurtured in the USA if we want to bring manufacturing jobs back.

Paul Krugman makes the point that bailing out the auto industry here saved just these sort of industrial ecosystems, as well as a lot of jobs.

Friday, January 20, 2012

On the Beach

Just got back from a trip to Big Sur with my 12-year old son Alec. It's nice to hang out on the beach with your kid. Hundreds of elephant seals were doing just that. They're at Piedras Blancas. We also did a lot of walking, exploring, and searching of tidal pools.