I saw this on my Google+ feed (yeah, I actually use Google+ along with two of my friends)...

...and got all excited before realizing it's not for people who are building, designing, making, and hacking physical things like houses and furniture. Turns out the event is for computer programmers! Okay, so the term "design" is technically fair game.

From the Builder's Forum April 5 announcement (http://www.startupcitydsm.com/2011/04/the-builders-forum)

"We’re asking people out there in the trenches really building stuff to crack a few beers with us and share what you’re working on."

An Actual Building Under ConstructionAn Actual Building Under Construction

Perhaps I find this amusing and slightly incongruous because today I had an actual meeting with people in an actual trench who were really building actual things. Don't get me wrong - I honestly believe that programmers, web/game designers, system administrators work hard. They just work differently hard than people in the physical building trades. Building code is not the same as building a wall. Making an iPhone app is not the same as making a coffee table. Working as a "systems architect" is not the same as working as an architect.

Des Moines has a fabulous energy developing around technology innovation. We have somewhat less innovation surrounding the creation and maintenance of our physical environment. I worry about degrading the language of physical craft by equating it to accomplishments in the digital realm.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011, is a scheduled election to fill three seats on the Des Moines School Board. In addition, there is a measure to change the way school board members are elected. The proposal would create four positions elected by ward, and three at-large representative positions.

View the SAMPLE BALLOT here.

Please vote YES on Public Measure A.

I heartily endorse the idea of a ward/at-large system for our school board representation. Such a system is in place on our City Council and I am convinced that it provides the best possible representation - each portion of the City has a representative who can concentrate on issues specific to his or her area. The at-large representatives are able to take a broader systems view.

The Candidates

I can't recall missing an election since I started voting and I don't intend to start now. However, I'll admit to a bit of laziness this cycle - I'm sitting at the computer trying to do my "due diligence" research on the candidates the night before and not coming up with a whole lot.

So, for all you procrastinators out there, here's a quick link guide to all the information I could find on the candidates:

  • Dick Murphy (incumbent) Website - http://web.me.com/rmurphyia/site/welcome.html (But don't try to go there. Though reported in the Register, a website doesn't actually exist at this address. Murphy says he is "setting it up.")
  • Bill Howard Website - None
  • Pat Sweeney Website - None
  • Cindy Elsbernd Website - None
  • Felipe Gallardo (incumbent) Website - None

Are you sensing a pattern here? Not a single candidate created a website for their campaign (Note to Pat Sweeney and Cindy Elsbernd, a Facebook page is not a campaign website). In the near-vacuum of information available online about candidates, one is forced to perform the ubiquitous Google search.

Turns out, the only real candidate information I could find out there is a brief Register Q&A. Dick Murphy is running unopposed for a vacant seat, so that narrows down the field to four candidates vying for three seats. In this case, with such little information available, it becomes a search for any disqualifying characteristics or answers.

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The books are unpacked, computers humming, and solar panels generating at the recently re-opened Franklin Avenue branch library. Despite some minor quibbles, I think that the building is a fabulous success! Kudos to the Library board, the architect, the builder, and the City for promoting sustainability as a core component of the project.

Franklin Avenue Library Sign: Sign at the newly-renovated Franklin Avenue library branchFranklin Avenue Library Sign: Sign at the newly-renovated Franklin Avenue library branch

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Leaving a meeting at the State Historic Preservation Office this morning I was happy to see that preparations are underway for the internationally recognized Hy-Vee Triathlon. It is great to see that after a two-year stint in West Des Moines, organizers decided to return the event to downtown. I am hard pressed top think of a better way to showcase Des Moines and Iowa to an international audience than to run a major sporting event right by the beautiful State Capitol building.

Hy-Vee Triathlon PreparationHy-Vee Triathlon Preparation

Here's hoping for good weather...

Hy-Vee Tri Weather ForecastHy-Vee Tri Weather Forecast

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Maps make boring statistics come alive!

I created the following maps using ArcMap (a commercial GIS program) and freely available downloaded Census data. It's not the sort of thing that anyone can do - ArcMap is a relatively involved program and combing through the Summary File data requires moderately advanced Microsoft Access skills.

With a little bit of invested time in learning the system, however, the American Fact Finder website can help the lay person create custom maps from the same data using only a web browser!

The following maps are available for download in pdf form at the bottom of this article.

Note that the map above is total population not population density. The large census tracts have a high total population spread out over a much larger area.

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An incredible amount of work went into creating this report - it documents the historic contexts under which the neighborhood developed as well as the architectural significance of the buildings throughout the neighborhood.

Calling all history buffs: You can download a copy of the final report on the project website! (full disclosure, I developed the website/database and was a co-project manager on this awesome undertaking)

The research project utilized a comprehensive approach that sought to document all buildings within the survey area. Consequently an all-building permit database and a historical photo set that included 700-1,000 photos was amassed. The building permit data was used to separate out the many overlapping house-based historical contexts. This separation involved distinguishing pre-Drake University residences, early Drake-induced residences (many of which started out in a lesser scale, but were then enlarged over time), and modified residences (as apartments or Greek social system residences).

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On August 11, 2011, the Census Bureau released the Iowa SF1 (summary File 1) data to the public. Being the obnoxious data hound that I am, I can't resist playing around with this information to see what jumps out... In this first installment, I'm going to take a look at the statewide data aggregated to the Street Crowd (historic): This image is in the public domain, via Wikimedia CommonsStreet Crowd (historic): This image is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons"place" level - identified towns and cities. Rural residents who don't live in an incorporated town or city are not included in these numbers.

You can check out Des Moines' stats below the break.

Iowa's total population is 3,046,055 people

Of that, 2,421,895 (79.5%) have chosen to live in an incorporated town or city. There are 1,009 incorporated towns and cities identified by the Census bureau for reporting purposes. However, 140 of those towns have fewer than 100 residents.

The average population of an incorporated city in Iowa is 2,400 residents. The top quintile (highest 20% by population) averages 10,334 residents. By a factor of 1.6, more people choose to live in Des Moines than the next most populated city, Cedar Rapids.

The Top 10 Iowa Cities by total population are:

    City Population
    Des Moines 203433
    Cedar Rapids 126326
    Davenport 99685
    Sioux City 82684
    Waterloo 68406
    Iowa City 67862
    Council Bluffs 62230
    Ames 58965
    Dubuque 57637
    West Des Moines 56609

Despite having the fastest growing suburbs in the state, only one of the Des Moines area suburbs makes the top 10 in total population. In fact, only one of the top 10 most populated cities in Iowa is a suburb.

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The Color Of

14 Aug 2011

Via the fabulous "the color of" website, here is the color of Des Moines:

The Color of Des MoinesThe Color of Des Moines

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The City will begin resurfacing Grand Avenue from 35th Street to 44th Street starting Saturday, August 13, when it will be closed for remilling. Paving is scheduled for the following Saturday, August 20, but the street will be open for local traffic during the intervening week.

What a great chance to stripe in some bike lanes without incurring an additional mobilization cost!

Ingersoll Streetscape and Bike Lane: Ingersoll streetscape improvements and new bike lane stripingIngersoll Streetscape and Bike Lane: Ingersoll streetscape improvements and new bike lane striping

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We Drive Too Much

In Des Moines, one gallon of gasoline now hovers around $3.50, almost $.50 less than a few months ago. Oil companies continue to rake in record profits based on the fear that supply is unstable and growing short (which it is, but that is another discussion).

Toyota Prius: File source: James Benjamin Bleeker via Wikimedia CommonsToyota Prius: File source: James Benjamin Bleeker, Web Master of http://www.AutoOnInfo.net and http://CarsOnInfo.net [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia CommonsOne of the effects of relatively high gasoline prices is that people have perhaps started driving less. For many of us, when we start paying something closer to the true cost of driving each mile, driving less begins to look more appealing.

Of course, the problem with the high price of gas is that the extra money we spend at the gas pump goes straight to the pockets of the oil producers. very little of the fabulous sums of money generated by skyrocketing prices go towards actually dealing with the externalities of pollution, road maintenance, and traffic safety which are generated and/or exacerbated by driving.

Drivers tend to believe that the only prices associated with driving are cars, insurance, and gasoline. Why? because those are the costs that are most immediate.

Solutions we should work towards:

  • reduce the subsidies for new infrastructure and increase spending on maintenance of existing infrastructure.
  • Increase investment in mass transit.
  • Incentivize connected and compact development/redevelopment
  • Tighten emission standards
  • Tighten CAFE (fuel efficiency) standards
  • Increase the taxes on gasoline
  • Support engineering innovation for alternate fuel sources
  • Explore taxing gasoline per dollar rather than per gallon

It is my hope that we can reduce dependence on oil as a driver (so to speak) of our economic and social systems before it becomes an emergency - and it is pretty clear that it will.

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