Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Client Project: Sneakity Peek

I've been remiss about getting "afters" of my finished projects for clients.  It's on my list of things to do and so this week, since I'll be wrapping up a client's living & dining rooms, I'll be sure to get photos.   Here's a shot I took today of the pen shell coffee table in the living room:

I'm slightly obsessed. 

xoxo, Lauren

Le Puy Notre Dame Shirt Design

Polo Shirt Layout

Full Design

This is a Shirt design I have done for the Le Puy Notre Dame event which takes place this July:

We are taking two Three Wheelers across this year one of which can be seen below.

Nick Taylors newly finished Aero!

I have been pretty busy with commissions recently and hence no posts. More artwork will be on the way soon. I'm also preparing for the VSCC Prescott Hill Climb Event on August 7th-8th where I will be running the stall as well as doing painting sessions throughout the weekend.

Until then, please feel free to contact me with your commission requests or any other motor related artwork needs.

Fairfax signs TV content deals

First, there was a launch of 160 new regional websites and now there is a content sharing deal with Channel 10 and ABC. Fairfax has started to move aggressively on a number of fronts to extend its reach! This latest bit of news went through relatively unnoticed. However, it marks significant shift in how newspaper publishers and TV operators are starting to shape their strategies to gain share of the broader media market - to make up for any loses in their respective parts of the market.

It is reported that in addition to gaining access to branded Ten News broadcasts, Fairfax's production teams would be able to cut and create their own stories using Ten's raw footage or file footage from archives. For Ten, the deal is an opportunity to broaden the online audience for its news content. The deal with ABC includes programmes such as Enough Rope with Andrew Denton, Foreign Correspondent, Catalyst and Bombora: The Story of Australian Surfing. However, the arrangement does not cover more recently aired content from the ABC, although extending the agreement is on Fairfax’s agenda. It all makes perfect sense...

For anyone who read my blog post from August 2009 – The Great Media Evolution - this deal should not come as a surprise. I highlighted “content portability” as the key to success in media business and partnering/ cross media acquisitions as the only logical strategy for existing operators to move forward. Ten months later someone is actually acting on those recommendations! Sure, there were previous cross media deals done in the Australian market, such as MSN and Channel 9 or Yahoo and Channel 7, but this is the first one involving non-online media businesses – TV channels and a newspaper publisher.

The boundaries between online, press, radio and TV are getting blurred. Now TV channels have substantial online portals and also publish magazines with the same tiles as their successful TV series. Is Fairfax finally starting to see that they are not merely a “newspaper publisher” anymore? Sure, paper advertising still delivers bulk of the revenue but the key point is that they are in the business of attracting audience, and selling access to the highest paying advertisers, and not in “news reporting”! The company is under increased pressure to come up with a viable long term strategy but pundits appear to be betting on its failure to deliver as they shorted the stock quite heavily (ASIC reported that short positions account for over 11.5 % of Fairfax shares, the largest proportion of any company listed on the ASX). And stories of millions in lost revenue resulting from mass defection of large real estate agents in Melbourne to start a rival weekly publication to advertise properties for sale and rent are not helping either.

Media business is all about how many eyeballs you can get to see your content! Not how great, unique, professional etc. is what you produce! In other words, content is just a mean to an end – of getting bigger audience to sell it to advertisers. I realise that many journalists may get affronted by this statement but this is how it really works. Without advertisers they don’t have a job as those who buy newspapers cover only a fraction of operating expenses.

But every cloud has a silver lining... it is only a question of perspective. Since, large media companies are primarily in the business of selling access to segments of their audience – they need “attractive”, in many respects, content. And here lays a clue for an alternative business strategy for smaller operators in the media market – produce and “sell” content not to individuals but to large media houses! Become a media production company – like film and TV show producers or freelance journalists. This strategy is more like in my league so, I am tempted to try it first hand... a new challenge for 2010/11 financial year!

Postscript: "Up to 20 per cent of Australians have watched a full-length television program over the Internet, and one in eight have seen a full movie online" via computerworld.com.au

Related posts:
Fairfax launches 160 sites
Why iPad will not save newspapers
The real cause of newspaper troubles
The Great Media Evolution

Monday, June 28, 2010


On Wed, I am having the screening procedure that Katie Couric so vividly demonstrated some years ago. Basically the story is that if you have this procedure at age 50, any colon cancer that might be detected will be at a sufficiently early stage for it to be quite curable. So because I have good health insurance, I can be sure I will not die of colon cancer.

Those without insurance are not so fortunate. Such patients can only get the screening if they pay out of pocket ($2000-$3000) or, if they are patients at places like the LA County hospital, if they are symptomatic, which means the cancer might not be caught early. For the median family, $2000 is a lot of money; for those who occupy the netherworld of having too much money to get medicaid but not enough to afford health insurance, it is even more so.

I hope the new health care system rectifies this. Under the old system, this difference in service delivery was unjust.

[Updates: First, I misspelled "colon," which shows that I should never write things while being reflective at midnight. Second, it is worth saying something about cost benefit analysis and screening--according to this source, the cost per life year is about $45,000, which seems like a good deal to me].

One more take on Kartik Athreya's critique of economics bloggers

Athreya is arguing that the blogosphere's various critiques of modern macro are being made by insufficiently expert bloggers using insufficiently rigorous arguments. As is often the case, the best rejoinder comes from Mark Thomaand I suppose I don't have much to add myself. (I would link to the essay, but it seems to be broken right now)

But George Akerlof did [have a lot to add], way back in 2006, during his American Economic Association Presidential Address. which was entitled "The Missing Motivation in Macroeconomics." I remember finding the piece enthralling (I know, we economists aren't supposed to use such emotion laden words), because it made the very simple but devastating case that when the foundations of modern macro (the independence of consumption and current income (given wealth); the independence of investment and finance decisions (the Modigliani-Miller theorem); inflation stability only at the natural rate of unemployment; the ineffectiveness of macro stabilization policy with rational expectations; and Ricardian equivalence) are tested against data, they generally fail the test. I remember at the time that some economists thought that Akerlof had taken leave of his senses (and some friends of mine thought I had taken leave of mine because I so admired the address).

But in the end, we should be respecting evidence more than clever theoretical edifices. And yes, Kartik, while I am not an expert in macro, I did have to slog through lots of OLG models and rational expectation models and real business cycle stuff in graduate school, and pass prelim questions on them, so I have at least some idea of what it is that I find intellectually unsatisfying. Akerlof's view, expressed before we had the financial meltdown, that we really need to start over with modern macro, has, I think, largely been vindicated.

Fox News.com

Today on Fox News' imagazine, I was featured in an article about decorating for young families and also in another little slideshow/ article with photos & tips.  I was interviewed by Brooke Eaton of Fox News and she's a very sweet, savvy writer and can't thank her enough for the article.   I was a bit nervous to be interviewed, but it was a lot of fun and Brooke made me feel instantly at ease. 

The focus of the article was on decorating for young families, particularly those with kids.  As you know, I haven't given up the fight for a pretty house even though I have two little boys.  (Although at times it feels like a losing battle ;)  It's funny to see yourself quoted in an article and I had to laugh out loud when one of my quotes when asked about design tips for parents with young children was, "It's your life, not your kids'."  hahahah oh boy...  But as harsh as that may sound, (as far as decorating / designing in concerned ;) I believe it 100%.  Design a house that still feels adult/ beautiful by keeping kids' toys to a minimum and providing attractive, accessible storage for them.  Kids' toys can be in every room of the house without taking over.   A running joke in the family is that one of the first things you say to your newborn baby when he arrives is "welcome to our world."

BUT- All joking aside, we love our little dudes- we just think they should keep their primary-colored toys hidden ;) ;)

xoxo, Lauren

To read both articles go:
1) here (decorating for young families) and
2) here (for the Pure Style Home article/ slideshow.)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Paint Colors: In Photos vs 'Real Life'

I've gotten lots of emails asking for paint colors used in various rooms/ specific projects.  And I've been so terrible about answering them.  (I'm sorry!!)  My first excuse is that when I don't remember them off of the top of my head, I put off going down to where our paint is stored or opening a client's file and finding the name of color.  It ends up being one of those things that just gets pushed to the end of the list of things I mean to do... 

{Justin's nursery}

One of the rooms I never mentioned a paint color for was Justin's nursery.  I didn't do this on purpose (and never purposely withhold paint colors or sources) but the truth is that we used every last drop of the paint on the walls, ditched the empty gallon, and I don't remember the name of color!!!!  It was a crazy time for us and that's really all I can say.  If I got out the deck & went & matched it, I could figure it out, but my #2 reason/excuse for not being so dilligent about supplying paint colors (and the reason it gets pushed very low on the list of things 'to do') is because paint color look different in different spaces.  Light changes everything and although it will probably look close, it might not match exactly so the "perfect navy blue" in my house might be very different from the perfect navy in your house.  

I learned this lesson first-hand when I used this color as inspiration for my family room: 

{Design by Ruthie Sommers, photo by Don Freeman for House Beautiful}

When I got out the paint chip (Blue Seafoam by Benjamin Moore) it was so much more intense than it looked in the photos and I knew that it would look way darker on my walls than it did in the Ruthie Sommers house.  Here's a sample:

It was not what I wanted and I was shocked at how dark the swatch was.  I went a couple of shades lighter with a tad more yellow (in another brand- Freshaire Choice Color: "Midwest Springs") and got a very similar-looking color for my walls & exactly what I wanted:

{Our family room}

And here's the Ruthie Sommers room again for reference:

The paint swatches look very different when compared next to one another in person, but the wall colors in the photos of the rooms look really similar.  Photography, lighting, time of day, etc. all come into play when selecting a paint color and that's one of the reasons exact paint colors aren't very important to me when trying to duplicate the look of a room.  Knowing paint colors is useful for points of reference, but in the end, the color chosen on a wall needs to be specifically chosen for that room.    (I.e., knowing a paint color will get you close/ in the ballpark, but in the end go with what works best in your space.)  I can take a photo in a room of my house- morning, noon and night - and the color will look different in each photo.

I never mind getting questions about colors so of course keep them coming but if I don't answer you, please know that I've put it on my list of colors to check!!  Hope you had a great weekend & yay for summer!!!

xoxo, Lauren

Update-  Just to clarify:  I should mention that I don't do "trial & error" painting & you can train yourself to properly visualize the colors before they go up on the walls.  (Clearly trial and error would not work for clients, and it's years of experience and knowing how colors will look once they are actually painted on a wall as opposed to how they look on a sample that will get you the right color choices...  Because I knew how the Blue Seafoam sample would look if actually painted on my wall, I knew right away it wasn't the color for me.  What was shocking to me was how it translated in the photo...  As a much lighter color. :)  Hope that makes sense!     Check out Colour Me Happy for expert color advice & prefessional training!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Congratulations Class of 2010

This past week, Fairfax County's seniors, the Class of 2010, graduated.  My husband, David, teaches English at our local high school, and was voted by the seniors to give the Commencement speech at the graduation ceremony.  He was introduced at graduation as "hard & crunchy on the outside but soft & chewy in the middle."  The student speaker joked about how Dave used to make fun of a student because of his long hair, but they thought it was only becase he was jealous because he doesn' have any hair.  The student introducing him also told a story relayed to him by a teacher: "I mentioned to David that I was hungry in school one day & had forgotton my lunch.  When I got back from teaching my next class, there was a happy meal waiting on my desk for me."

{Dave with the boys}

I loved his speech and wanted to share it with you.  (I'm not including the ad-lib funny parts, because you had to be there for those ;)  I know it meant a lot to the kids & parents there...

{The Graduation at the Patriot Center}

"Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished Colleagues and Guests, Principal Bates and of course Class of Two Thousand and Ten, it is a great honor to be here before you speaking today.

Eleven years ago I sat where you are now, looking up at some old, bald guy telling me that he once sat where I was sitting... But I all I could think about was when is his speech going to end so I can get to beach week at where else? The Jersey Shore.

The moral of this story is that by the age of twenty-one this attitude had me bald with a terrible GPA and nothing but a couple of Beer-Pong Trophies to show for it. I made a lot of bad choices in my youth and I've spent the past seven years working harder than I’d ever thought possible to remedy them. Immanual Kant says ‘the only thing that can bring you morals are the starry sky above and the moral law within” and Saba (a student) has fallen asleep. Just like class.

Fine, I get it, no Kant. But seriously listen… you are the result of the choices you make. How about a Batman Quote?  It’s not who you are inside but your actions that define you. Better? It’s not who you are inside but your actions that define you. The scary thing about this is that half the time you don’t even realize the choices you’re making because you’re just doing what you always do- what you’ve always done. When you’re in a situation for the first time- that’s when you think about what you’re going to do and why. The first time you get too much change back at McDonald’s: Are you thinking, “Sweet, I’m sure I’ve overpaid before,” or are you thinking about that worker’s register coming up short at the end of his shift and that money coming out of his paycheck? Say you take the money, no biggie, fine- but the next time you’re given too much change, that money just goes right into your pocket; you don’t need to think about it. You’ve already had this conversation with yourself, why have it again?  You’re on auto-pilot. How about the first time someone calls you a bad name in elementary school?  You have to think about how you will react- you can:

A) call them one back – even though mom said not to call names

B) punch them in the face – they do have it coming


C) walk away – everyone’s going to make fun of you

You choose your action.  But no need to think about it next time. Next time you’re just going to react. Get it?   Re- Action- Repeat your Action. Eventually we all are faced with enough situations that we stop thinking about why we are doing something and just do what we’ve always done in that situation. This is now who we are. Sometimes people will observe our behaviors and label us. What a “Pyscho!” What an “Idiot!” She is such a “blank.” He such an “blank.”  (My speech got edited ;)   But you know what kind of labels are out there. And more importantly, what kind of behavior gets you those labels. The sad part is, when you got that label you probably didn’t even think about what you were doing, you were just reacting, doing what you always do in that situation. That’s why those initial choices are so important.

At twenty-one years old, I realized I didn’t like who I was. I met this girl who kept telling me “that’s not ok,” when I would do something morally wrong, and the funny thing was, deep down I knew she was right: How I was acting didn’t reflect who I was inside. I had to figure out why. I started thinking about why I was doing the things I was doing (like punching people in the face) and then I had to change how I handled those situations... (Actually she stills tells me when I’m not doing the right thing, but it's way less often now.)

I want to do the same favor for you. Class of 2010, you’ve made many achievements and accomplishments in your four years here at Herndon and I have truly enjoyed teaching you.... but… not all of you have been the model of good behavior. Secretly, I think that’s why you picked me to make this speech. You knew you would get honesty.... So some of those choices you’ve made these past four years: “That’s not ok.” So think about how you came to those decisions.

All of you are going to be faced with many new situations in college and in the “real world” and you are going to be in some familiar situations. When someone asks you to go out drinking what are you going to say? What about Sex? or Drugs? What happens if you say ‘yes’ to the first one, do you answers to the second two change? How about Cheating? Plagiarizing? Speeding? I’m just saying… think about where you stand on these things and why.   I’m telling you this because nobody told me this.  College is the chance to start over. You can change that label - You can change your answers to those questions, or if you like them, keep them the same. Just take this opportunity, Class of 2010, and think about who you've been the past four years. Do you want to be the same person? You are the only one who can answer this and you know deep down there is something you want to change.
Do it.
Make it happen.
Be who you want to be, not who you’re friends want you to be.
Let your actions define you proudly.

...And oh yeah- Congratulations! "

I'm so proud of him and won't go on about my feelings to save you from my cheesiness.  But Congratulations to all of you moms with graduating seniors and YAY FOR SUMMER VACATION!!!

xoxo, Lauren

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Interview with Jimmy Moore

About two months ago, I did an interview with Jimmy Moore of the Livin' la Vida Low Carb internet empire. I hardly remember what we talked about, but I think it went well. I enjoyed Jimmy's pleasant and open-minded attitude. Head over to Jimmy's website and listen to the interview here.

I do recall making at least one mistake. When discussing heart attacks,I said "atrial fibrillation" when I meant "ventricular fibrillation".

Hard to believe

I was on the radio the other day, discussing the future of Fannie and Freddie, when another guest said that all we had to do was fully privatize the mortgage market for all to be well. I know that I can't expect everyone to be aware of the 1920s, but the period 2002-2006 was a period in which the "pure" private sector took away substantial market share from Freddie-Fannie, and look how well that turned out.

Of course in the end there is no such thing as a pure private market, because when large financial institutions get in trouble, the government comes to the rescue, either through an injection of funds or through extremely low interest rates. We are all GSEs.

Jack Guttentag found that mortgage rates in the 1940s were in the low fours.

Here is the link. [update: of course these were typically 20 year loans, so the comparison is not perfect].

Lisa Schweitzer on time-service quality trade-offs for transit and autos

She writes:

..People tend to like to separate travel time and service quality based on the arguments, like Litman uses, that the time in transit or walking is more pleasurable and productive than being in a car. But they are only right for people whose preferences align with theirs. For other segments of the mobility market, they are wrong. Moreover, it’s wrong to assume that these are the only things being traded: yeah, you hate to drive and you’d be happier not driving, but the extra half an hour that transit takes you means a half an hour you’re not with your kids, cooking, drinking wine with your spouse at home, watching the game, or any number of things you can’t do on transit, either. So yeah, I’d prefer to get the exercise walking than driving, but I prefer to spend the time cooking so that my kids aren’t sitting around hungry after school more than I prefer the exercise.

As she wrote this yesterday, I couldn't help thinking about it yesterday during my transit trip home. I take transit in LA every now and then, in part because that it the sort of guilty liberal I am. But yesterday, when all the stars were aligned (I arrived at bus from USC to Union Station at exactly the time in left; I only had to wait a minute or two for the Gold Line connection from Union Station to Pasadena), it took me just less than one hour to get from my office door to my front door. When I drive to work in the morning (at a strategic time), it takes me 20 minutes. When I return home in the afternoon (using surface streets until Hill or Figueroa meets the Pasadena Freeway), it rarely takes more than 35, and never more than 45. So my worst days in the car free up about an hour relative to transit. In case you are wondering, it is 11 miles from home to campus.

But don't I find driving unpleasant? Not really, I can plug my i-pod into my car stereo, or listen to NPR or the BBC, or a CD...In the morning, when traffic is clear, I get pleasure from driving my car at freeway speeds. I do miss the walk that I get when I use transit.

To some extent, the problem is that the street system in Los Angeles, with lots of redundancy, works too well. In Washington DC, Metro was a viable alternative to driving--it would often get me to work faster than taking my car. The street lay-out in Washington, set as it was in the late 18th century, was not designed to keep auto traffic moving. Metro is also very good--when people in DC complain how how awful it is, I want to laugh.

At the same time, I don't think a transportation system whose principal mode is people driving alone is sustainable. We need to think about some system in between driving alone and fixed route transit. It seems eminently doable to me, but it will take some imagination to make it work.

Apps4NSW Winners announced

I have just got the official email - the joint winners in Apps category and, $15,000 in prizes each, go to (drum roll)... :

Demographic Drapes submitted by NuMaps

Suburban Trends by the Smart Mashups team (the second mashup win for this application!)

I have written about both applications before while reporting on Mashup Australia competition. It is not a surprise that applications focused on thematic mapping using statistics and demographic information came on top. There is a huge demand for such information not only from governments but also from business and private citizens. And even less surprising is that both applications are build on the backbone of Google Maps. Traditionally, such tools could only be created with high end GIS servers and although there is quite a capable server behind all NuMaps drapes/ layers Suburban Trends demonstrates that similar functionality can be achieved with much simpler, non-spatial tools.

The second prize and $10 000 was awarded to Bike Community Hub by the Bikey team and third prize and $5 000 to The School Hall by Jack Zhao:

Prizes were also awarded for ideas in open and school categories. The news is so fresh that the official Apps4NSW site has not been yet updated but I guess more information will appear there soon.

Congratulations to all the winners!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

In Search of Traditional Asian Diets

It's been difficult for me to find good information on Asian diets prior to modernization. Traditional Chinese, Taiwanese and Japanese diets are sometimes portrayed as consisting mostly of white rice, with vegetables and a bit of meat and soy, but I find that implausible. Rice doesn't grow everywhere, and removing all the bran was prohibitively labor-intensive before the introduction of modern machine milling. One hundred years ago, bran was partially removed by beating or grinding in a mortar and pestle, as it still is in parts of rural Asia today. Only the wealthy could afford true white rice.

Given the difficulty of growing rice in most places, and hand milling it, the modern widespread consumption of white rice in Asia must be a 20th century phenomenon, originating in the last 20-100 years depending on location. Therefore, white rice consumption does not predate the emergence of the "diseases of civilization" in Asia.
In the book Western Diseases: Their Emergence and Prevention, there are several accounts of traditional Asian diets I find interesting.

Taiwan in 1980

The staple constituent of the diet is polished white rice. Formerly in the poorer areas along the sea coast the staple diet was sweet potato, with small amounts of white rice added. Formerly in the mountains sweet potato, millet and taro were the staple foods. During the last 15 years, with the general economic development of the whole island, white polished rice has largely replaced other foods. There is almost universal disinclination to eat brown (unpolished) rice, because white rice is more palatable, it bears kudos, cooking is easier and quicker, and it can be stored for a much longer period.

Traditionally, coronary heart disease and high blood pressure were rare, but the prevalence is now increasing rapidly. Stroke is common. Diabetes was rare but is increasing gradually.

Mainland China

China is a diverse country, and the food culture varies by region.

Snapper (1965)… quoted an analysis by Guy and Yeh of Peiping (Peking) diets in 1938. There was a whole cereal/legume/vegetable diet for poorer people and a milled-cereal/meat/vegetable diet for the richer people.

Symptoms of vitamin A, C and D deficiency were common in the poor, although coronary heart disease and high blood pressure were rare. Diabetes occurred at a higher rate than in most traditionally-living populations.


On the Japanese island of Okinawa, the traditional staple is the sweet potato, with a smaller amount of rice eaten as well. Seafood, vegetables, pork and soy are also on the menu. In Akira Kurosawa’s movie Seven Samurai, set in 16th century mainland Japan, peasants ate home-processed millet and barley, while the wealthy ate white rice. Although a movie may not be the best source of information, I suspect it has some historical basis.

White Rice: a Traditional Asian Staple?

It depends on your perspective. How far back do you have to go before you can call a food traditional? Many peoples' grandparents ate white rice, but I doubt their great great grandparents ate it frequently. White rice may have been a staple for the wealthy for hundreds of years in some places. But for most of Asia, in the last few thousand years, it was probably a rare treat. The diet most likely resembled that of many non-industrial African cultures: an assortment of traditionally prepared grains, root vegetables, legumes, vegetables and a little meat.

Please add any additional information you may have about traditional Asian diets to the comments section.

My New Go-To Dress

Kayce Hughes, the super-talented designer of Pears + Bears, became a Pure Style Home sponsor a couple of months ago.  I was immediately smitten with her company and her iconic designs, and fell head over heels for her denim tunic dress.  I love Kayce's style and I'm crazy about her chidlren's lines too.  {Oh my goodness so adorable!! Best gifts ever!!}

I'm always on the look-out for "Go-To" clothes:  The pieces in our wardrobes that always work, that we're just guaranteed to feel good in.   Kayce's dress looked like one of those magic pieces to me and now that I have one, I can honestly tell you that it is!! 

Kayce & I swapped clothes for ads and I would so not do this if I weren't in love with her stuff.    ("Modeling" is not easy as I learned when taking these pics with a dying camera battery but VERY worth my new beautiful go-to dress!!  Thank you Kayce!!  I love it!!!) 

So, what are your favorite go-to pieces?  I always think how I would love to have a fairly modestly-stuffed closet full of only go-to pieces... 

xoxo, Lauren


ps-  Stacy just asked a good question in the comments:  It looks longer on me than it is on Kayce in her photo on the website.  I'm 5'8 and it hits me just above the knee.  I love it at both lengths and I am guessing the one Kayce is wearing is hemmed shorter, but as soon as I hear back from her, I'll let you know.   (ok eeek-  now I need 2!!  one long and one short!! hahah)

One more point about fixed-rate mortgages

They seem to be safer. From the Mortgage Bankers Association of America:

On a seasonally adjusted basis, the delinquency rate stood at 6.17 percent for prime fixed loans, 13.52 percent for prime ARM loans, 25.69 percent for subprime fixed loans, 29.09 percent for subprime ARM loans, 13.15 percent for FHA loans, and 7.96 percent for VA loans. On a non-seasonally adjusted basis, the delinquency rate fell for all loan types.

The foreclosure starts rate increased for all loan types with the exception of subprime loans. The foreclosure starts rate increased six basis points for prime fixed loans to 0.69 percent, 17 basis points for prime ARM loans to 2.29 percent, 18 basis points for FHA loans to 1.46 percent, and eight basis points for VA loans to 0.89 percent. For subprime fixed loans, the rate decreased nine basis points to 2.64 percent and for subprime ARM loans the rate decreased 39 basis points to 4.32 percent.

Some of this may just be that people who take less risk select themselves into fixed-rate loans, but even so....

Google launches Fusion Tables

A few weeks ago Google announced the release of its new data service – Fusion Tables. Last week I finally got a chance to play with this latest tool from Google. It is a very impressive tool, with even mightier potential! Ok, it’s early days and currently available functionality is very simple but I am very excited about what it means for the future.

For a start, and there is no doubt about it, Fusion Tables is a database - and spatially enabled one! It can already be used as a replacement for myriad of low complexity MySQL tables that power so many websites. Fusion Tables supports simple SQL queries quite well. And since it can store KML objects, it is also a potential substitute for basic PostGIS, ArcSDE , Oracle Spatial or SQL Server with spatial extensions. It can’t yet handle more complex shapes (like multi part or doughnut type polygons) but when Google enables that functionality Fusion Tables will inevitably become the tool of choice for spatial applications developers working with Google Maps and Google Earth. Why would you bother to maintain your own servers (even if software is free) when Google can do it all for you for nothing, and in no time?!

When I first wrote about the Ingenuity of Google Map Architecture I concluded that there is a good change that Google Map and related applications will evolve into a very powerful set of tools, more than enough for many common GIS tasks. And it is certainly happening! I put forward a suggestion that in order to become a fully fledged GIS, Google Map needs map server functionality and a dynamic vector data management module. Google went about implementing the first one in its own way but it is practically there now: any large KMZ file is rendered as an image on Google Map. And Fusion Tables is a starting point for server side vector data management capability (starting with simple queries, although efficient serving of vector data is a longer term proposition). There is also available a little known Gogole cache database – which allows to enable efficient client side vector data management as well. When all three are ready to be put together to support Google Maps and Google Earth, it will be a mighty powerful GIS package!

Related posts:
Free GIS Tools - Google Map
Googe enables map customisation

Monday, June 21, 2010

Bob Hagerty blogs about Patrick Lawyer on Fixed Rate Mortgages:

He writes, in part:

Allotted only about 10 minutes to share his vision, Mr. Lawler....first made the obligatory statement that he was expressing his own views and not those of his federal agency. Yeah, right, I thought, and reached for my triple espresso.
But then Mr. Lawler launched a frontal assault on the most sacred element in U.S. housing-policy dogma: the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage loan, providing the right to refinance at any time, with no prepayment penalty. If more members of the audience had been fully awake at this moment, I feel sure that their gasps would have been audible.
Now, Americans are very attached to their 30-year fixed-rate freely prepayable mortgages. They like not having to fuss about the possibility of 28% interest rates in 2032, even though most of us will move or die long before then. They love to refinance every time rates drop and then brag to their neighbors about how much they are saving per month.
What they don’t stop to realize often enough is that they are paying a very large price for that privilege– twice.

The context is important.  One of the reasons the 30 year fixed rate mortgage is ubiquitous is the United States may be the existence of Fannie and Freddie.  If we do away with FF, we may also do away with the 30-year fixed rate mortgage.  So let me defend the 30-year fixed a bit with something I wrote about 3 years ago:

The problem with advising people to use adjustable rate mortgages, however, is that ARMs give households liabilities that have short duration--that is, liabilities whose market value remains close to face value at all times. This is because the rates on ARMs by definition change to meet market rates on a regular basis. Houses, on the other hand, are assets with lots of duration. The services they give to homeowners (shelter and a set of amenities) is pretty much invariant to market conditions. Consequently, house values change with market conditions, such as changing interest rates.

Good financial management practice suggests that to minimize risk, the duration of of assets and liabilities for any institution, including households, should be matched. In the case of houses, this means that households looking to minimize risk should use a fixed rate mortgage to finance their house. There are exceptions--if one buys a house and expects to sell it in five years, a five year ARM makes lots of sense, because the duration of the asset (housing services over five years) and the liability would match.

This is not to say there is anything wrong per se with people getting ARMS, so long as they explicitly understand the risk embedded in them. But a principle I have been pushing for years is that if people can't afford a house with a fixed-rate mortgage, they probably shouldn't buy a house. It is one thing to have the option of the FRM, and then decide to take the risk of the ARM anyway. One of the nice things about the United States is that FRMs are easy to come by--this is not true in most countries around the world. It is something else to be forced into taking a risk in order to buy. Under these circumstances, buying probably isn't worth it. 

Everything involves real estate: music edition

I went to hear the Concertgebouw Orchestra in the Concertgebouw last Friday night.  There is no experience like it--the hall is remarkably intimate, and the sound washes over listeners without being blurry.  Bass notes in particular both rumble and have great pitch definition.  Not even Symphony Hall in Boston, Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, or Disney Hall here in LA (all of which are terrific venues) compare.  One of the reasons the orchestra has a consistent and unique sound (beyond, of course, the magnificent players) is its building--real estate creates sound character.

Yet buildings need to be renovated from time to time, otherwise they just wear out.  Yet any change to the Concertgebouw--the upholstery, the wood on the stage, maybe even the paint--has the potential to change those special acoustics.  What does one do to preserve such a place?

p.s., a young woman name Susanna Malkki took over from an ill Jansons.  She was really, really good.  Perhaps I saw an early performance from a future superstar?

Detroit has not had the largest peak-to-trough decline in percentage terms among American large cities

Although it is getting close.  Detroit has lost about 58 percent of its 1950 population; St. Louis has lost about 59 percent.  And Detroit's population is much bigger than it was in 1900; St. Louis has lost about 30 percent of its population since 1900 (just prior to the 1904 World's Fair, when 20 million people visited St. Louis).

Detroit Shrinking

The New York Times has a good story about it this morning.  It reminds me of the Talking Heads song Nothing but Flowers:

Where, where is the town

Now, it's nothing but flowers
The highways and cars
Were sacrificed for agriculture
I thought that we'd start over
But I guess I was wrong

Once there were parking lots
Now it's a peaceful oasis
you got it, you got it

This was a Pizza Hut
Now it's all covered with daisies
you got it, you got it

I miss the honky tonks,
Dairy Queens, and 7-Elevens
you got it, you got it

And as things fell apart
Nobody paid much attention
you got it, you got it

I dream of cherry pies,
Candy bars, and chocolate chip cookies
you got it, you got it

We used to microwave
Now we just eat nuts and berries
you got it, you got it

This was a discount store,
Now it's turned into a cornfield
you got it, you got it

Don't leave me stranded here
I can't get used to this lifestyle

Justin's Baptism

We have family in town so I need to be quick but wanted to share a couple of pics from Justin's Baptism yesterday.  (above)

Also, I'll write more later about THE BEST SANDWICH EVER (pictured below)

Hope your weekend was great!!

xoxo, Lauren

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Does The Greatest Trade Ever produce evidence of prospect theory?

There is a statement in Gregory Zuckerman's terrific book that really struck me: he notes that people hate negative carry, and far prefer positive carry (I don't had the book in front of me right now, so I need to paraphrase).  In Paulson's context, he was able to buy credit insurance very cheaply--this limited his downside risk in a way shorting would not, while allowing him to invest consistent his bearish views on the housing market. But it also meant he was paying out cash flow and not gettting anything in return until subprime mortgages and other instruments began failing.

To some extent, there is a discounting issue here: if investors take losses on the negative for several periods, the gains they receive in the future will be discounted.  But still, it is an interesting question whether investors discount negative carry trades too much--whether the typical Wall Street investor sold Paulson insurance that was, under reasonably discounting, an ex ante positive NPV bet for Paulson.  I am not sure how one would go about testing this, though....

Friday, June 18, 2010

Truth in Design

Honesty in art & design...  It's often a very elusive thing to achieve.  I find that I'm constantly searching for an understanding of how to create honest, true, "real" designs.  It's not an easy task and one that I've made it a goal to get better at through the years.   

{Darryl Carter in his DC townhome featured in Elle Decor, photo by Simon Upton}

Much of my design work comes from logic, careful planning & attention to balance, scale, color, harmony...  but then the other part of it comes straight from my gut.  (I think this is how it is with many people)  It's that "gut" aspect that can't be forced.  That has to be real & honest and current.  It's not a recreation of what's already there, but a new concept...  something created or incorporated to spark a feeling.  

{Our living room}

In his lecture Some Hints on Pattern Designing  (delivered on October 4th 1899)  textile designer, artist, socialist, and writer William Morris said, "Every work of man which has beauty in it must have some meaning also; that the presence of any beauty in a piece of handicraft imples that the mind of the man who made it was more or less excited at the time, was lifted somewhat above the commonplace; that he had something to communicate to his fellows which they did not know or feel before, and which they would never have known or felt if he had not been there to force them to it."

{portrait of Willian Morris by George Frederic Watts}

I haven't been able to get it out of my head because it's just so true.  The words "I'm so excited about..." come out of my mouth (and often onto the blog!) pretty regularly...  (Hence the overabundance of exlamation points you're used to seeing here ;)  Now I'm not saying that what I'm necessarily excited about is anything new to anyone else, but to me it's new, and the potential for beauty I see is exciting to me... My goal with every project I do is to create something that is new for my clients & provokes a feeling that they would not have without my design...  To spark a feeling, to create a mood, to set the perfect (in the realest sense) backdrop for my clients' lives.

{Women's Shelter bedroom by me & Rebecca Ilgenfritz}

To do this, a design has to be true & honest.  It can't be a copy or an imitated-version of another room.  Anyone can do that and I wouldn't want to pay someone to do it for me.  Because each person, each family is different, their homes should reflect their uniqueness.  One of my favorite parts of meeting new clients is helping them figure out their personal styles.  And then taking that style and applying it to the mood of a room, because even someone with a self-described "casual elegant" style may want a room that makes him or her feel happy or a room that makes him or her feel alert or relaxed or calm or whatever.  There are different goals for different spaces in a home, and I love figuring out the desired mood/ feeling in a space and to set about making it a reality.  Again, to create a truth or an environment that did not exist before the design came to life.

There are so many different levels and depths to decorating/ design.  So many goals and so many desires.  Some people's desires are more surface-grazing: a beautiful room that they and the people who visit their home will love...  It's well-designed and often complimented.  Others want a home that is updated and comfortable: Does it have hardwood floors? Check. Does it have granite counters? Check. Does it have my favorite color? Check. Does it have 'art?' Check.  Pretty and comfortable furnishings? Check.  Is it "pulled together?" Check. And this is totally okay! 

...  But there are others who want something deeper.  Honestly, it's what I'm after.  I want a feeling... It has a "pace" or "speed"...  a level of motion or a "pitch" if that makes any sense.  (See synesthesia if this isn't clear)  My desires for the feeling I want in a room change failry regularly... often seasonally.  But the essence of it remains.

{Our foyer at Christmas}

It can be a new observation or true appreciation for a type of art or a fabric.  When we laugh out loud because of a movie or something we're reading, we often find ourselves saying to ourselves, "that's so true."  (Think of Seinfeld...  observing life's daily monotonies and saying the statement/ observation out loud.  We laugh because of the truth of what he's saying.) 

We also feel other emotions when presented with truths like these in stories or movies, songs,  or to sum it up in all types of "art."  Honest representations have meaning or truth behind them.

{Iwo Jima by planetware.com}

Like many things there's the cheeseburgers and the prime rib...  (I think Stephen King said this??)  But sometimes  you are in the mood for a cheeseburger and sometimes you're in the mood for prime rib.  Although prime rib is widley regarded as "better" than a cheeseburger, the best cheeseburger in the world is better than a poorly cooked prime rib.  Think of design/decorating like that.  In honesty, in creating what is "real,"  you can create the perfect cheeseburger, and isn't that better than making a crappy prime rib?  My point is be what you are.  When you design, design for the space and the client at hand.  Beautiful things like crown molding exists, and when used in the correct spaces, are perfection, but just because crown molding exists and is beautiful and you can do it, does not mean it is right for every space and will necessarily make your space look beautiful.  (The same applies especially for granite countertops!! ;)  Honesty in design is appropriateness. Do what you do and do it well.  Don't worry about it being what everyone else is doing or what's "in" or "out."  It needs timeless appeal to you and/ or your client.

{image from babble.com}

Our house is a cheeseburger and we've tried to make it the best cheeseburger ever for us:  which would be one with lots of garlic and basil added into the meat, and even sometimes carrot puree.  A lot of people might not like all that stuff in their burgers...  So, even the "best" cheeseburger for us isn't necessarily the "best" to others and might not have mass appeal, but we love it and we live here. 

{The Something's Gotta Give Living Room via Cote de Texas}

However, many of the rooms that we (design-lovers) do fall in love with, are seemingly personalized spaces, because we appreciate how perfect and appropriate the space is for the people who live there.  (Think of the Something's Gotta Give House, above.  People (me included) feel head over heels for this it!!)  We appreciate the honesty in creating a space that's both highly personal and beautiful.  We take inspiration from these rooms and cherish our magazine tear pages. The inspiration should translate into learning,  reinterpretation, personalization and creating...  not necessarily copying if we're trying to actually create something new, something with its own soul....  something that wouldn't have existed if we didn't create it.


I am still learning and know it's a lifelong process.  I know there's still so much more to know.  There's a potential that I hope to reach and I know I'm not even close to it.  I don't say this to be vain, but because I'm sure you feel it too.  We all have this potential we're striving to reach...  to learn to create a truly honest design. 

Sorry to get all heavy on a Friday but I just had to get some thoughts out. :)  See you Monday and get excited about the weekend!!  ;)

xoxo, Lauren

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Low Micronutrient Intake may Contribute to Obesity

[2013 update: I'm skeptical of the idea that micronutrient insufficiency/deficiency promotes obesity.  Although the trial discussed below suggested it might be a factor, it has not been a general finding that micronutrient supplementation causes fat loss, and the result needs to be repeated to be believable in my opinion.  Also, conditions of frank micronutrient deficiency are not usually associated with fat gain]

Lower Micronutrient Status in the Obese

Investigators have noted repeatedly that obese people have a lower blood concentration of a number of nutrients, including vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin K, several B vitamins, zinc and iron (1). Although there is evidence that some of these may influence fat mass in animals, the evidence for a cause-and-effect relationship in humans is generally slim. There is quite a bit of indirect evidence that vitamin D status influences the risk of obesity (2), although a large, well-controlled study found that high-dose vitamin D3 supplementation does not cause fat loss in overweight and obese volunteers over the course of a year (3). It may still have a preventive effect, or require a longer timescale, but that remains to be determined.

Hot off the Presses

A new study in the journal Obesity, by Y. Li and colleagues, showed that compared to a placebo, a low-dose multivitamin caused obese volunteers to lose 7 lb (3.2 kg) of fat mass in 6 months, mostly from the abdominal region (4). The supplement also reduced LDL by 27%, increased HDL by a whopping 40% and increased resting energy expenditure. Here's what the supplement contained:

Vitamin A(containing natural mixed b-carotene) 5000 IU
Vitamin D 400 IU
Vitamin E 30 IU
Thiamin 1.5 mg
Riboflavin 1.7 mg
Vitamin B6 2 mg
Vitamin C 60 mg
Vitamin B12 6 mcg
Vitamin K1 25 mcg
Biotin 30 mcg
Folic acid 400 mcg
Nicotinamide 20 mg
Pantothenic acid 10 mg
Calcium 162 mg
Phosphorus 125 mg
Chlorine 36.3 mg
Magnesium 100 mg
Iron 18 mg
Copper 2 mg
Zinc 15 mg
Manganese 2.5 mg
Iodine 150 mcg
Chromium 25 mcg
Molybdenum 25 mcg
Selenium 25 mcg
Nickel 5 mcg
Stannum 10 mcg
Silicon 10 mcg
Vanadium 10 mcg

Although the result needs to be repeated, if we take it at face value, it has some important implications:
  • The nutrient density of a diet may influence obesity risk, as I speculated in my recent audio interview and related posts (5, 6, 7, 8, 9).
  • Many nutrients act together to create health, and multiple insufficiencies may contribute to disease. This may be why single nutrient supplementation trials usually don't find much.
  • Another possibility is that obesity can result from a number of different nutrient insufficiencies, and the cause is different in different people. This study may have seen a large effect because it corrected many different insufficiencies.
  • This result, once again, kills the simplistic notion that body fat is determined exclusively by voluntary food consumption and exercise behaviors (sometimes called the "calories in, calories out" idea, or "gluttony and sloth"). In this case, a multivitamin was able to increase resting energy expenditure and cause fat loss without any voluntary changes in food intake or exercise, suggesting metabolic effects and a possible downward shift of the body fat "setpoint" due to improved nutrient status.
Practical Implications

Does this mean we should all take multivitamins to stay or become thin? No. There is no multivitamin that can match the completeness and balance of a nutrient-dense, whole food, omnivorous diet. Beef liver, leafy greens and sunlight are nature's vitamin pills. Avoiding refined foods instantly doubles the micronutrient content of the typical diet. Properly preparing whole grains by soaking and fermentation is equivalent to taking a multi-mineral along with conventionally prepared grains, as absorption of key minerals is increased by 50-300% (10). Or you can eat root vegetables instead of grains, and enjoy their naturally high mineral availability. Or both.

Outdoor Harvest Table

Last week my husband, Dave, surprised me with a huge truckload of weathered old barnwood.  A barn nearby had fallen down and the owners were looking to unload some of the wood...  And he made a massive (15 plus feet) outdoor harvest table!!

We currently have no place to put it but are working on a gravel or stone patio to put underneath of it asap.  (This is why I didn't take any full shots-  it's not so pretty right now but I promise to get some good ones as soon as I can! :)  We simply picked out the pieces we wanted and screwed them together and set the table top on 3 steel sawhorses.  Besides the thing weighing a million pounds, it was a really simple project and doable in only a few hours. 

Hope you enjoyed and can't wait to share pretty pics of it!!

 xoxo, Lauren

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Extraordinary Taxi Ride

How best to present a journey of 11 ordinary individuals from around the World in an ordinary Australian Taxi through not so ordinary Western Australia outback? Of course, on an interactive Google Map! The map is a part of The Extraordinary Taxi Ride website created by WA Tourism to attract local and overseas travellers to visit this wast and unique in many respects part of Australia. It has been created with Flash version of Google Map and depicts the route the travellers took on 11 individual trips. The map is annotated with commentary and photos marking significant points of interest along the route.

According to the announcement from WA Tourism Minister “…the campaign website had more than 160,000 visits, with people spending 15,000 hours following the ride”. “The campaign has many months to go, but already generated media exposure worth more than $2.6million and reached a potential global audience of more than 60 million… also had an immediate effect on tourism business with travel partners reporting double and triple-digit increases in bookings to WA.”

This is one more example of creative use of spatial technology in tourism marketing and PR campaigns. The key point is that simple online maps are finding their way into more and more diverse range of applications, not necessary as the main feature but nevertheless, as an important element of the overall package. There is enormous opportunity for creative application of traditional GIS functionality however, the simplicity of building interactive online maps also poses a challenge - it is not easy to convince project sponsors to use experts for the task rather than just web developers and graphic designers.

First spotted on: mumbrella.com.au

Related post:
There’s nothing like Australia
Maps in Viral Marketing

Monday, June 14, 2010

New Layout

I thought I'd spruce the place up a bit! Let me know what you think in the comments.

So pumped

I'm so excited about this Victorian wing chair I found at Miss Pixie's in DC.  I have been meaning to get there for the longest time but just haven't gotten out.  Several clients of mine have mentioned that I "had to go" and I'm so glad they did!  Just last week a client sent me a link to Miss Pixie's website for a possible piece in her own home and as I was scrolling through the items for sale, this chair caught my eye and has since come home with me:

Although I think the current fabric is pretty, it's not what I'm going for and so I'm having it reupholstered in something else for a new project of ours that I'm working on. 

{Of course I love that green velvet in back!!}

Will keep you posted!! 

xoxo, Lauren

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A line in Clark Hoyt's final column bothers me

He writes:

There is also no question that The Times, though a national newspaper, shares the prevailing sensibilities of the city and region where it is published. It does not take creationism or intelligent design as serious alternatives to the theory of evolution.
This is not sharing "prevailing sensibilities."   This is simply reporting overwhelming scientific evidence.  It is no more about sharing sensibilities than not taking flat-earthers seriously is about sharing sensibilities.


Friday, June 11, 2010

Weather maps for winter resorts

It’s winter again in Australia! Queen’s birthday long weekend marks the official start to skiing season. The easiest way to look up weather conditions for winter resorts is to visit aus-emaps.com snowfields weather maps for NSW and Victoria. The maps show locations of those resorts, the latest temperature from the Bureau of Meteorology weather stations as well as contain links to the latest forecast for the regions. Embedded webcams from several resorts allow checking actual snow conditions. The maps are a good starting point for exploration of more detailed information about each of the resorts.

Another website maintaining comprehensive winter weather information- including long range forecasts and snowfall models - is ski.com.au. And skibonk.com, offshoot of a very popular weatherbonk.com has also some relevant information covering Australian snowfields.

This year Perisher Blue resort deployed Google Map also as an interactive virtual tour application. It is simple but quite clever concept of overlying a hardcopy trail map of the resort on Google Map and marking important features with categorised icons, matching “the perspective” of the printed map image. The map also has a number of embedded 360 degree images from selected points on the mountain tops that can be viewed in an interactive manner. It gives a good feel for what to expect when you visit the place. But no matter how clever the computer application is, it will never convey the real “chill and thrill” of being there in person!

How to punish universities without punishing students

I understand that when universities violate rules (NCAA or otherwise), they need to be punished, so that rules have credibility.  But it seems unfair to punish current students for past misdeeds.  In the current context, a fair sanction would be to allow current students to play in bowl games, but forbid the university from taking any money for them.  Just a thought.


A reporter yesterday asked me to name some keys to successful downtown redevelopment. Two places I have lived provide some clues (Sorry for being a homer).

When I moved to Madison in 1984, the downtown there wasn't much--despite the fact that it has lots of worker density from state government and the University of Wisconsin. But the city--and in particular its chief planner, George Austin--had the sense to see that Euclidean zoning was not compatible with downtown redevelopment. Downtown zoning was essential replaced with Planned Urban Developments. Ironically, I remember some environmentalists--people who want transit oriented development--opposed some of the plans on the grounds they would bring too much density to downtown. Oh well.

In any event, the transformation of downtown Madison has been astonishing. It now has very attractive condos, and a restaurant scene that is remarkably strong (I was going to add the caveat "for a city of Madison's size," but the caveat is actually unnecessary). The area is now lively, with people strolling even in cold that is now, well, beyond my personal limit of tolerance (I have gotten soft since leaving). The city also built a beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright inspired convention center that provides an anchor to the south end of downtown. Unlike many such places, it was designed to be a gathering place for the community, and it has worked magnificently.

When I first saw Pasadena in the early 1980s, it was actually a pretty unattractive place, with dilapidated commercial areas and an under-maintained housing stock. The air quality was terrible--I remember my nostrils stinging the whole time I was there--and I wondered why anyone would live there.

Two important changes have since happened. First, the air quality, while still not good enough, is much, much better. I can see the San Gabriel Mountains pretty much every day now; in the 1980s, it was hard to know that the place even had mountains. My colleague Chris Redfearn maintains that once air quality improved, people began reinvesting in the very beautiful pre-World War II houses that make up a good chunk of Pasadena (more evidence that environmental regulations that target real externalities are economically beneficial).

Second, the city set up a business improvement district in Old Town that operates much like a mall operating agreement. This allowed anchors such as Crate and Barrel to internalize some of the external benefits that they create by being a draw. An advantage regional shopping malls have had over traditional downtowns is that mall operators can create lease structures such that anchors can recover benefits from the traffic they generate for other stores. This is why anchors pay lower rents than in-line stores. In general, local government subsidies to businesses are not wise, but subsidies for anchor department stores may be an exception. Ideally, governments will set up districts in which merchants whose traffic is driven by anchors will subsidize the anchors, but to get downtowns started, governments themselves might need to give the subsidy.