Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bill Gross says don't expect double-digit returns anymore

He could very well be right. Part of returns come from inflation, which is currently running at an annual pace of 1.2 percent. If "normal" inflation is 3 percent, a 10 percent return in normal times is equivalent in real terms to 8 percent now. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

You know it's bad when...

... you pull in the driveway and see your kid's tricycle and consider painting it. 

Or even getting another for Christmas...  

We found Christian's tricycle in the trash by the side of the road a couple of years ago (yes, I pick from the trash) and it's missing that cool thing in the back where we could have pushed him so it didn't get much use until he learned to pedal it on his own.  The colors are totally faded but the fact remains that it works and he loves it.   It's now parked in the front of the driveway (which is in front of our house) because he uses it so much and I have to be honest, it's irking me.  Not driving me crazy by any means, but every time I pull into the driveway and wonder if I should just spray paint the thing black or something, anything to get rid of the faded plastic and blue that just stands out like a sore thumb to me.  As much as I would love to say we could put it away in the shed every night, I know we won't.  Life just isn't like that for us right now.  

I know this is one of those things to let go, but it has my OCD-design head twitching.

We also have a toddler plastic slide/ gym thingy in our back yard...  it too makes me a little nutty and I can't wait to replace it.  

I know toys will be part of our lives for a while now...  and I have to say that I'm so much less bothered by the classic toys than the new plastic ones.  It's crazy that I care but seriously, I'm so much more okay with a bunch of cute little wooden cars on the ground than a bunch of plastic ones...

{Christian's trucks}

We try to limit the toys coming into our house...  When new stuff comes in, something else leaves.  There just isn't room and we don't want our kids to have a million toys they never use.  If something's not getting played with enough, we put it away and take it out a few months later. 

I know I sound like a freak.  What are your thoughts?   (Not on my freakishness, on toys ;)  And, any tips for spray painting a plastic bike?   Maybe just the blue parts???

xoxo, Lauren

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

NSW traffic conditions map

Road Traffic Authority (RTA) in NSW has stared publishing up to the minute information about traffic conditions in Sydney as well as in NSW regional areas. The coverage and extent of information is quite comprehensive and it is served in two formats to suit individual preferences: as an interactive map with continuously updated information, and as a text list (with sort function to enable arranging information according to update time, type of incident or its location). A separate window lists 67 live traffic cameras strategically located across Sydney's road network, with images refreshed every few minutes.

I find map option the most informative as it displays all the data in geographic context. Information on the map is refreshed automatically with update time clearly marked. Auto update can be turned off if required and users can customise the list of information items for display on the map.

Live updates include information on accidents, scheduled road works, major events, fires, floods and Alpine conditions. There is an option to add traffic flow overlay for Sydney provided by Google as well as locations of live traffic cameras and temporary message signs.

Journey planner, utilising Google driving directions script, is part of the application. The map comes with a comprehensive list of points of interests that are very handy for planning a trip. These include: bike parking areas, heavy vehicles checking stations and rest areas, locations of Safe-T-Cams, general rest areas and RTA Motor Registries. Travel routes can be filtered to avoid incidents or road works on specific dates and can be saved for future reference.

RTA provides RSS feeds of the information on region by region basis. However, despite the push by Federal and State governments to liberate access to data generated by their agencies under creative commons licence, RTA is not letting developers to use its information for value added services and derived products. It is strictly for personal use although, embedding of the entire application in third party websites is allowed. A comprehensive widget customisation tool is provided as a part of the application, with easy to follow instructions.

Overall, this is quite a comprehensive information source, with attractive multi tab design and extensive range of features. The mapping functionality of the application is built with Google Map v2. Mobile version would be a great extension.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A modest step toward untangling housing markets

One of the impediments to housing transactions is appraisals. If appraisals (which are backward looking) don't support the offer price of a house, the financing for the house can disappear.

For low down payment deals, this is frustrating, but appropriate. But for deals involving a minimum of 20 percent down, it is hard to see how appraisers have a better sense of value than the potential buyer who is actually putting a lot of money at risk. It may make sense to allow buyers who put 20 percent down, and whose source of funds is well documented, to get a loan even if the appraisal comes in a little low.

Monday, September 27, 2010

My mom's birthday

My mom's birthday was this past weekend so we decided to do dinner at our place.  The weather was perfect and we moved the massive harvest table Dave made out of old barn wood to the center of our back yard:

{sorry about the pics but something funny was going on}
It is insanely heavy and won't be moving anywhere for a good long while...  my back still feels it.

I added pumkins & gourds and eucalyptus & hydrangeas to give it a Fall vibe even though it was so warm:

I'd never gotten fresh eucalyptus before... Trader Joe's was selling it for $6 and I love how it looks just gathered simply in an urn:

I didn't notice any bugs so I think it definitely helped keep them away.

Here's the birthday girl with Christian and my little sister Morgan (13):

My mom's a special lady.  She's the kind of mom I could always tell anything to...  even my friends would confide in her in high school.  She was a single mom (until she & my stepdad, Tom, got married when I was in 8th grade) but still managed to be super-involved & spend a lot of quality time with me: Girl Scouts, festivals & musicals & plays & events...  She's amazing with advice and rarely judges. 

We've had our battles (oh my gosh would we yell!!) but I think mostly it's because battle alike:  get it out and get over it.  (No moping or stewing here!)  She's always coming through when I need her: babysitting, food, help at home, advice and also those "mom" hugs.  We're very alike but very different.   She's lower-key than me, yet supported me going into a creative field/ being self-employed even though it's not something she would ever do and scared her when I started because she understood me.  She had my sister late in life but still manages to be as involved in her life as she was in mine  (if not more so!! :)   I love her so much and she is one of the few people I actually lean upon.   

Here's my gorgeous cousin Jen who just got engaged & will be getting married in Puerto Rico next summer!!  (I'm her maid of honor ;) ;)

And my mom informed me it was time to pull up the carrots Christian & I planted back in March.  (Um yeah, I really know nothing about growing veggies -or anything for that matter- and thought that the time was right to pull them up when they were long like you see at the grocery store.)  So as we all enjoyed some cider (I'm a huge fan of woodchuck haha) and some hummus & pita chips, Christian and I pulled up the carrots:

And they really reminded me of those screaming baby-root things from Harry Potter (mandrakes)... especially the double ones:

(Justin enjoyed the food too as you can see from the bits on his face}

I didn't get any pictures of the food (besides that beautiful bag of pita chips) but we did grilled tilapia and shish kabobs with rice & salad.  We ate just as it got dark & there's something so awesome about eating outside with candlelight.

We finished up with s'mores by the fire where I proceeded to fall asleep. 

And that's a good night for me.  Most of our meals are "normal" and don't include special flowers or table settings and I know I couldn't handle this on a nightly basis, but I would like to do a pretty/ special table at least once a week.  It encourages lingering and laughing and talking on & on.  That's interesting to me...  that our environments really do affect our experiences.  Check out my friend Seleta's recent post to see the gorgeous table setting she created last week with her kids' help. 

xoxo, Lauren

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

If you have a pretty table setting you'd like to share, feel free to link up!!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

At what point will short sales become meaningful to restarting the housing market?

The Washington Post today forecasts 400,000 short sales this year. Lawrence Yun says there will be 2.5 million foreclosures in 2010. So while short sales have have increased substantially, they will still be only about 1/6 the number of foreclosures.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Potatoes and Human Health, Part II

Glycoalkaloids in Commonly Eaten Potatoes

Like many edible plants, potatoes contain substances designed to protect them from marauding creatures. The main two substances we're concerned with are alpha-solanine and alpha-chaconine, because they are the most toxic and abundant. Here is a graph of the combined concentration of these two glycoalkaloids in common potato varieties (1):

We can immediately determine three things from this graph:
  • Different varieties contain different amounts of glycoalkaloids.
  • Common commercial varieties such as russet and white potatoes are low in glycoalkaloids. This is no accident. The glycoalkaloid content of potatoes is monitored in the US.
  • Most of the glycoalkaloid content is in the skin (within 1 mm of the surface). That way, predators have to eat through poison to get to the flesh. Fortunately, humans have peelers.
I'll jump the gun and tell you that the generally accepted safe level of potato glycoalkaloids is 200 mcg/g fresh weight (1). You can see that all but one variety are well below this level when peeled. Personally, I've never seen the Snowden variety in the store or at the farmer's market. It appears to be used mostly for potato chips.

Glycoalkaloid Toxicity in Animals

Potato glycoalkaloids are undoubtedly toxic at high doses. They have caused many harmful effects in animals and humans, including (1, 2):
  • Death (humans and animals)
  • Weight loss, diarrhea (humans and animals)
  • Anemia (rabbits)
  • Liver damage (rats)
  • Lower birth weight (mice)
  • Birth defects (in animals injected with glycoalkaloids)
  • Increased intestinal permeability (mice)
However, it's important to remember the old saying "the dose makes the poison". The human body is designed to handle a certain amount of plant toxins with no ill effects. Virtually every plant food, and a few animal foods, contains some kind of toxic substance. We're constantly bombarded by gamma rays, ultra violet rays, bacterial toxins, free radicals, and many other potentially harmful substances. In excess, they can be deadly, but we are adapted to dealing with small amounts of them, and the right dose can even be beneficial in some cases.

All of the studies I mentioned above, except one, involved doses of glycoalkaloids that exceed what one could get from eating typical potatoes. They used green or blemished potatoes, isolated potato skins, potato sprouts or isolated glycoalkaloids (more on this later). The single exception is the last study, showing that normal doses of glycoalkaloids can aggravate inflammatory bowel disease in transgenic mice that are genetically predisposed to it (3)*.

What happens when you feed normal animals normal potatoes? Not much. Many studies have shown that they suffer no ill effects whatsoever, even at high intakes (1, 2). This has been shown in primates as well (4, 5, 6). In fact, potato-based diets appear to be generally superior to grain-based diets in animal feed. As early as 1938, Dr. Edward Mellanby showed that grains, but not potatoes, aggravate vitamin A deficiency in rats and dogs (7). This followed his research showing that whole grains, but not potatoes, aggravate vitamin D deficiency due to their high phytic acid content (Mellanby. Nutrition and Disease. 1934). Potatoes were also a prominent part of Mellanby's highly effective tooth decay reversal studies in humans, published in the British Medical Journal in 1932 (8, 9).

Potatoes partially protect rats against the harmful effects of excessive cholesterol feeding, when compared to wheat starch-based feed (10). Potato feeding leads to a better lipid profile and intestinal short-chain fatty acid production than wheat starch or sugar in rats (11). I wasn't able to find a single study showing any adverse effect of normal potato feeding in any normal animal. That's despite reading two long review articles on potato glycoalkaloids and specifically searching PubMed for studies showing a harmful effect. If you know of one, please post it in the comments section.

In the next post, I'll write about the effects of potatoes in the human diet, including data on the health of traditional potato-eating cultures... and a curious experiment by the Washington State Potato Commission that will begin on October 1.

*Interleukin-10 knockout mice. IL-10 is a cytokine involved in the resolution of inflammation and these mice develop inflammatory bowel disease (regardless of diet) due to a reduced capacity to resolve inflammation.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pretty Find

I'm loving this circa 1950 Chinoiserie ginger jar I found recently.  We've been busy photographing our finds for the new Pure Syle Home store and I'm bittersweet as usual about it.  {It's really pathetic...  Although I'm so excited that the store is about to open, I'm also strangely attached to the items we're selling.} 

I know it's weird & I'm sure I'll get over it soon enough, but I definitely love me some "stuff."  How about you??
Have a beautiful weekend & enjoy the weather!!

xoxo, Lauren

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

RIP free postcode widgets

By changing licence conditions Australia Post has killed my and dozens of other free postcode lookup widgets and websites. Yes, you as a consumer have been denied the right to use lookup services of your choice as website operators can no longer provide such services in competition with Australia Post.

For now I will leave my postcode lookup widget running as is, since it is using older data version and it could be argued that the new licence should not apply to previously acquired files. But I acknowledge the data will get out of date pretty quickly and I will have to discontinue the service in the current format at some stage… I wonder how strict Australia Post will be in pursuing its rights with numerous sites using the data – some have built a substantial traffic pure on postcode lookup functionality!

It appears there no option of commercial licensing of the data as there is no reference to it either in the new licence or on the Australia Post site. I asked several times for a formal permission to use the file but my emails remained unanswered until today. I was advised politely that "Australia Post are not willing to consider" my request. No mention of paid option whatsoever!

The new licensing conditions are quite restrictive as users are not allowed to:

  • use [the data] in any database and/or application for the purposes of providing, updating or maintaining any publicly available postcode look up or finder functionality;
  • to modify the extract file; [can only use original file and cannot combine with other data!]
  • to reverse engineer or disassemble the extract file; [cannot extract into a database even for personal use?!]
  • create derivative works based on the extract file; [cannot map localities for postcodes!!! And commercial operators will not be able to use the file to produce updated versions of their postcode boundary products unless Australia Post agrees specifically to such a use!]
  • make any use of the extract file in a way which directly or indirectly causes Australia Post financial loss (including, without limitation, consequential damages with existing clients and / or loss of commercial opportunities with existing clients and / or potential future clients).

The last one is especially nasty if taken literary because it means if Australia Post wishes to sell you that file, you are not allowed to use the free version even for strictly personal purposes! Let’s hope Australia Post can do something creative and useful with this dataset because otherwise you, as a consumer, are stuck with something pretty ordinary...

So, I can no longer provide free postcode look up service with the latest Australia Post data for you beyond what is already there… I can’t even give you my existing widget code “as is” because it requires “disassembling” of the Australia Post file and storing information in a database… But I am working on the alternatives. I am not giving up on the concept just yet, considering my current widget is used over 20,000 times every month!

Postcode Finder map remains unaffected by these recent developments since it is based on the Australian Bureau of Statistics postal area boundaries. I was hoping to integrate Australia Post data into it to be able to provide continuously updated geographic representation of postcode extents, based on my new concept, but I will have to shelve the idea for now.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Richard Blacks Panhard Levassor (1903) at Curborough

Richard Blacks Panhard Levassor (1903) at Curborough
Acrylic on Board (41cm x 34cm)

A commissioned piece of Richard Blacks 13.5 litre Panhard Levassor at Curborough. A wonderful Edwardian racer and joy to paint.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Design Snobbery

{remember this scene from Pretty Woman?}

Design snobs.  You know the stereotype: clickity clacking heels, suits, haughty expression, a distaste for low budgets and new entries into the field.   Now, do they really exist or we are imagining it?  Have you ever walked into a store and suddenly looked down at what you were wearing and felt like you didn't belong there?  Was this because someone in the store "made" you feel that way or because of your own insecurities?

I know that a lot of people I've spoken with outside of the design industry- mainly friends & family- think that a lot of interior designers and in-store decorators/ salespeople have a "snobby" way about them.  I think a lot of this can stem from talks about budgets and brands and general nonverbal communication.

People fear someone walking into their homes and "judging" them & their house.  It's a designer's job to look critically at a space, so yes, it won't be all pats on the back when you invite a designer into your home to begin a new project (you wouldn't want to pay for that, would you?)  but it shouldn't be a barrage of judgement & cristicism either.  When I walk into a home with a new client for the first time, it's not the time to judge, it's the time to observe, and I always approach a new project knowing that I've been called in because the owner understands good design and is looking for something more in his/ her home.  I understand that designing is not his/her profession and don't expect to see a magazine-worthy space (that's my job! ;) ;)   Depending upon the budget given and the parameters of the project, I help the client determine the best level they can get their home to.  I help them figure out where best to allocate their time & money to get the best overall look.  I know many people fear telling a designer their budget because they are afraid we are going to use all of it or go way over or judge them for it.  I tell clients that yes, I will use all of the budget you 've given me, but knowing the budget up front helps me figure out how to get the best look for the amount of money you have for the project.  Money is one of the designer's tools whether we want to hear it or not.

So the question is- why do designers have a snobby rap?  I know many of us like nice things and we deal in the business of appearances.  (On one level...  For most of us, it's the business of making people feel something, but it's an appearance that elicits that feeling.)  I'm really affected by my surroundings.  Whenever I go over to my mom's house, I start OCDistically rearranging her sofa pillows the way I like them.  (my poor mom, I wouldn't do this to anyone else...  except my maybe dad!)  So I'm sure if one of her friends saw me rearranging her pillows, she might think I was ridiculous and takingo ver my mom's house, but in reality I do it because my mom's house feels like my house to me (I did used live there for a looooong time) and I treat it just like I do my own house...  Maybe I look like a design snob when I do this?  (I'll have to make sure I never do it in a suit! ;)

I've heard a story about a designer telling a client that something in her home made the designer want to throw up.  After laughing (because seriously???!! really??!) I couldn't get over that someone would say that unless he/she was on a reality show and had been coached by the producer to say it.

I have also noticed in-store design consultants (whom I personally know & really get along well with & love) come across as a bit impatient or snobbish with customers who don't know much about the product or what they want or how to communicate what they want.  I KNOW these women are great people, but I know that the customer walks away feeling not-so-good when this happens.  I think some of it comes about from the customer being uncomfortable shopping for something she's not used to shopping for & dont' know much about, and I think some of it comes from the consultant doing it day in and day out and knowing the right questions to ask but not doing it as if it were the first time for the customer.  Because the customer is stepping out of his or her comfort zone while shopping or inquiring about a product he/she doesn't know much about, he/she needs to be treated carefully & with understanding.

I myself had similar treatment when I called a fabric distributor whose samples I carry for more information on one of their velvets.   I asked him to tell me about the velvet in regard to kids & pets & durability and his response was very insulted: "Why are you asking me this?  It's a high-end commercial grade velvet; one of the best in the industry."  (reeeeeeeally huffy)

I simply responded, "I haven't used this velvet before in a project, was never formally introduced to the pros/ cons of your line by a representative, and wanted to speak with someone who had experience with it."

"Oh," he said and then nicely went on to tell me how awesome it was and how long it would last, etc.  But my point is: why that response?  I wasn't surprised because I had gotten similar responses from him before, but really, why was there a need for that?  I actually love the company and have gotten so used to his responses that I'm fine with it and am not even bothered when I get one of those splashes-of-cold-water-responses, but it would be nice not to have to deal with it. 

My intern, Meghan, used to get off the phone with showrooms sometimes and remark at how unfriendly the people on the phone were.  We actually chose our upholsterer based on his friendliness and willingness to answer questions over the phone (once price & quality were taken into account of course) and he's still one of the best people we work with.  Think about how much business went his way simply because we felt comfortable asking him questions. 

I'm not one of those people who's going to say, "why the attitude?" or let it make me feel small or intimidated(which is what I used to do) but I am going to look for other possible future alternatives.  (Unless in the case of the velvets, everyone else is really nice, the service is amazing, and I'm so used to the dude's personality and it's almost funny.)  I don't think most people are intentionally rude or snobby or brisk, but it can harm them or their company anyway.  I've realized that most of that type of treatment isn't personal, but I'd still rather not have to deal with it. 

But why designers with the snobby rap?  We deal with appearances, we critique people's homes, we're in a field that is out of many people's comfort zone...  what else?

Competition.  I've noticed that there are a couple of different types of designers: those who share and those who compete.  There's no ifs-ands-or-buts about it, some designers view all other designers as competitors.  To some extent, I guess this is healthy, but to another extent there can be some cattiness in it.  I have lot of designer friends and believe that we all bring different styles & skills to the table.  The client that's right for me is not the client who might be right for my friend and vice versa.  The better my friends do, the better I can do.  If I can send over a client for a friend who might not be right for me but right for them, they might do the same for me one day.  There are designers out there who view other designers as competitors and as a reslt, just aren't really very friendly when meeting them.  I've even had a situation pretty recently, when I came accross an old family friend who is also a designer and I felt her hackles raise.  This is someone I've known since I was 5 and who has been designing a decade longer than me.  But I felt it and to be honest, even writing it now, it feels weird to me because I care about this person.      

Why else do designers have the snobby rap?

Thinking you're somebody.  This is a biggie.  I think it's important to never assume that someone knows who you are or what you do.  I was at a designer showhouse once and remarked to the designer of the room how much I loved it.  I introduced myself and put out my hand to shake hers after our conversation began and when she didn't offer her name, I asked her.  Eyebrows raised and clearly insulted, "I am ______________  _____________."  I felt embarrassed myself and realized that she was annoyed that I asked her name, but I didn't have a program on me and had wandered into the room without seeing a name anywhere.  I was honestly just loving her work and wanted to know who she was/ make a proper introduction.  (I won't make that mistake again because it was awkward.)  But I promised myself then that if I'm ever in a position like that, that I'll remember that -however awesome I think I am- there's a whole world of people out there who don't know me.  Humility is a virtue.

ASIDE: On that humility note though, I do think you can go too far- one of my best friends said to me a month or so ago on the phone that she thought I'd looked great after having the baby but had been afraid to tell me in person because I'm "so weird about compliments."  This definitely made me laugh, but I felt kind of bad.  I recounted a a conversatioon I'd recently had when I'd met someone at a party and he said "Oh my gosh your skin is just glowing!" and instead of saying "thanks" I said something like "yeah , I guess the sun'll do that" and it was just kind of awkward because there was a group of us & it came off as sarcastic (I think) when I didn't mean it that way at all.   So I do know that there's also a point when you have to learn to accept praise or a compliment gracefully. 

Why else?

Nonverbal.  I had a friend in high school who people thought were snobby and she blamed it on her facial expression and she was right.  Her natural resting facial expression just looked snobby.  My mom mentioned recently that one of the kids at the school she worked at asked, "Ms.Cox, why are you always sad?"  hahaha  And she has deep, sad eyes (which have always reminded me a bit of Precious Moments) and she said she's now going to have to try to work on her resting facial position because when she walks around it looks like she's unhappy.  Not that I think we always have to go around like people are watching us, but I do think it helps to be aware of how we're being perceived.  Do we come accross as nice, pushy, sweet, polite, rude, snobby??  How do you want to be perceived?  Maybe you don't have to go as far as changing your natural resting facial position, but you can be aware of your nonverbal communication when you're engaging in some way with somebody.  Are you speaking really quickly, giving them the impression that you don't have time for them?  Are you letting them speak?  Are you showing them that you're interested in what they have to say and listening?  Even smaller things like- is your body angled toward them or away from them? Are you looking around the room for other customers or are you paying attention to the person you're speaking with?  People in our industry need a little hand-holding.  (Even I like it! :)

Clearly there comes a point of overanalyzation (And I think I might be there.. I often recount conversation from months past, thinking that something I said came across badly or that I talked too much.  I'm much more critical of myself than I am of others.) but I do think it helps to do it a little and to become aware of how you're presenting yourself.  I majored in communication in college and have always been senstitive to people's moods and behavior and the results are out there, that how you present yourself affects everything from who you marry to how much money you make. 

Experience.  Wow, I can't say enough about experience.  A year of working experience in this industry is pure gold.  Every year you get better, you learn more, you grow, you become more open-minded (hopefully!) you become more confident.  I think this in many ways explains why so many of the great designers of our day our older.  But inevitably, with that experience, comes confidence & knowledge, which are both good, but can lead to ego & cockiness & impatience with those who know less or have questions or don't understand you.  Everyone is a person and everyone deserves respect.  It doesn't matter who you are or what or who you know.  You might be speaking to the next ____________ (fill in the blank).  I think most of us know what it feels like to be underestimated and I'm sure most of us don't like it (unless we're about to win a game of pool.)  Treating "those who matter" with respect and treating "those who don't" (just by feeling this way about someone you have to realize it's wrong)  with indifference or anything less than respect just plain isn't okay.  The receptionist who lets you in the door deserves the same respect as the CEO you're visiting.  I think anyone who has been on the receiving end of a brisk "hello" and then watches that same person turn to someone else and introduce themselves and gush, immediately feels a bit dissed.  I watch this go on all the time at parties and events. 

Who's Who.  Once you really get into any industry, you realize that there are those who are industry-famous.  The rest of the world doesn't know them, but you & everyone you work with does.  There are parties and events and associations and circles just like high school!  Some people are popular and everyone loves them and some people are really good at what they do but people don't like them as much.  It's easy for someone new in the business to feel "small" when entering into everything.  I myself was really nervous when going to some of the first design things a few years ago, but was fortunate to have some really sweet people taking care of me. 

In the design industry, a lot of things have gone into creating that notion of snobbery-  judgements, money, the focus on appearances, impatience with those who don't know, competition, ego, exclusivity, narcissism, etc. and I think some of it is valid and also that a lot of the perceived snobbery is unwarranted.  There are so many people in the industry who do have incredible reputations & talents but are the most down-to-earth people when you actually talk with them.  As is often the case, many of the most successful/ talented/ celebrated people are the most real and have gotten as far as they have not only because of their talents but because of their personalities. 

I'm not sure what I accomplished by this long pictureless post but maybe by thinking a little more we can learn to not pass judgements as quickly on others who might come across as snobby or maybe we can be more aware of our own behavior and make sure we're not coming across in a way we don't want to be perceived.  Your thoughts??

xoxo, Lauren

If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

-ps I just recently added this bit above about my design services in hopes that I get more reader-clients...  Since I've started the blog many of my clients have come directly from the blog & it's been so much fun!!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Don't get too excited

Nick Timiraos retweets Brad Hunter: Census numbers: Single family starts up 4.3% (+/- 12.4%) Plus or minus 12.4%!! It's in the fine print of their release!

I actually try my best not too make too big a deal out of any monthly number.

Australian Postcodes User Guide

There is a significant level of interest in postcodes as a convenient reference to locations because of perceived ease of linking them to information about individuals and businesses alike. Over the years postcodes have been put to a wide range of uses in analysing and publishing social trends and population statistics as well as in defining sales, service, franchise or dealership areas. Unfortunately, a misunderstanding of what postcode really is, resulting from a widely held belief about its value as a uniform referencing system, can cause many troubles for the unwary users. This article is a guide for all potential users of postcode boundary data.

Postcode Basics

Firstly, some facts about postcodes, from Australia Post site:

  • Postcodes were introduced in 1967 to facilitate the efficient processing and delivery of mail to customers.
  • Postcodes are only allocated to localities officially gazetted by State land agencies (usually, a postcode covers an area comprising of more than one locality).
  • The decision as to whether a new postcode or an existing postcode is to be allocated to a locality is based on operational efficiency.
  • Because the adoption of new or changed postcodes by customers is slow, changes are only made where significant reasons for change are established. A postcode change will only be considered if such a change leads to either enhanced service to Australia Post customers or operational efficiency to the organisation. Any such change will involve consultation with the local council/shire and residents.
Please note, the above holds true most of the time... but there are exceptions. It is also important to note that there are 3 types of postcodes: delivery areas, post office boxes and large volume receiver. Only delivery areas have meaningful reference to locations “on the ground”.

Sources of Postcode Information

Australia Post publishes a list of all postcodes from its database as a comma delimited text file. The list is updated every month and can be downloaded for free from Australia Post website.

Australian Bureau of Statistics publishes in 5 year intervals a set of Postal Area boundaries that are compiled using outlines of Census Collection Districts. They approximate official Australia Post postcode coverage areas at the time of publishing. These boundaries are available for free download in a range of popular GIS data formats. The next update of the data will be released in December 2010.

A number of private companies also produce and regularly update their own versions of postcode boundaries which are available for purchase. The two major suppliers include MapData Sciences (currently ESRI Australia) and Pitney Bowes (formerly MapInfo Australia). There is also a number of smaller operators that may be a source of free or inexpensive information on postcodes, such as which genaralises and converts ABS postcode boundaries to KML format for use with Google Map and Google Earth and supplies large format static maps in PDF format for printing. Other small suppliers with a variety of postcode related products and maps include:,, and

Common Problems with Postcodes

1. Changing Postcodes
Postcodes are changing over time due to evolving operational requirements of Australia Post. Changes include additions of new postcode numbers and deletions of old ones from the list as well as adjustments to composition of postcodes by adding or removing localities. This is especially the case with new, dynamically growing areas as well as some rural locations and is less of the issue for established metropolitan areas.

It means that postcodes are not a stable spatial reference. It is ok to use them as a snapshot of a particular point in time, but what often happens is that the attribution to “what area constituted that postcode X years ago” is lost from the supporting documentation and important facts can be misinterpreted by future users of the information.

This is a real problem for researchers of social trends - those who insist on using postcodes as the main location reference. As well, it may cause some legal headaches if postcodes are referenced in contracts for supply of services or franchise areas, etc. Postcodes were never meant to be used in this fashion!

2. Changing definitions of localities
On top of changes that are undertaken from time to time by Australia Post, there are also changes to boundaries defining localities which are implemented by State and local authorities. What was locality X in 2007 may now be split into locality X and Y. As the result, it is very difficult to maintain timely and consistent reference of postcode numbers to “what is actually on the ground”.

3. Imperfect procedures of referencing postcodes to localities
Where possible, Australia Post references postcodes to officially gazetted localities but localities are determined by State land agencies and boundaries are recommended by local councils. This process is not coordinated from end to end and sometimes it gets out of sync. Take for example postcode 3478 in Victoria. Australia Post lists Medlyn as a locality included in this postcode (June 2010 edition) yet this locality is not on Victoria’s register of gazetted locations. Referencing postcode numbers to localities is not a science and there can be inconsistencies.


If you must use postcodes, please consider the limitations outlined earlier as well as the following recommendations to avoid potential problems:

If you intend to match postcodes to official ABS statistics:
  • Your only choice is ABS version of postcodes as it will ensure consistency of definitions (that is, postcode X in the data table will correspond to postcode X depicted as an outline on the map). It is particularly relevant for Census of Population and Housing data.
  • If you need to combine those statistics with your own data (eg. client records), geocode individual addresses and then reference them to specific postcode boundaries (eg. using GIS software with “intersect” function capabilities) rather than just rely on postcode component of the address to match the records to boundaries. It is the only way to ensure a particular address/location is part of that specific postcode area.

If you intend to use postcode outlines to define custom areas:
  • Again, ABS version of postcodes is the most cost effective option as it is a free dataset.
  • Define your custom areas once and put effort in maintenance of that dataset over time. You can adjust a composition of custom areas if required (eg. add/ subtract postcodes or even adjust boundaries – but only if topological consistency can be maintained - that is, if changes to the boundary of one polygon can be reflected in the adjoining polygons).
  • It is important to acknowledge that this dataset becomes de facto your own version and that compatibility with “source” postcodes and/ or statistics published on postal area basis may be lost over time.
  • Always reference version of postcodes used in any legal documents to avoid future ambiguity as to what constituted “that” postcode at “this” particular point in time.
  • As in the previous case, if you need to reference those postcode outlines to your own data, run geocoding and then reference individual records to specific boundaries and do not rely on postcode details in the address record alone to match data with boundaries.

If you are relying on postcode boundaries from commercial operators:
  • There is really no point in aiming to always have “the latest” version of boundaries representing postcodes. After all, these are not compatible with ABS statistics (unless the company can assure they reprocess those stats “somehow” to a new representation of boundaries) and besides, what is the benefit of constantly having to reprocess your own data to accurately reference it to the ever changing representation of postcode boundaries? The only exception would be if the company supplies some other unique data that is available exclusively with their proprietary version of boundaries.
  • Although companies claim to have “the latest”, these data are rarely updated on continuous basis (ie. every month), rather in 3 or 6 monthly intervals so, you are still getting “dated” product.
  • Don’t assume you will be able to reference your address records to “the latest boundaries” using only postcode number unless your address details and postcode boundaries refer to the same time period. In most cases they don’t and you cannot avoid geocoding and then running GIS “intersect” processing of data to ensure reliability of information.

In conclusion, although postcodes appear to be well recognised spatial units for referencing locations, the complexity associated with accurate delineation of postal boundaries greatly diminishes their usefulness. If you can, avoid using postcodes! If you can’t, be aware of all the limitations, especially when drawing conclusions with far reaching consequences.

Related posts:
Free postcode search widget
Post code maps and population statistics

Monday, September 20, 2010

Seagrass is In!

Ok, so I know you've seen a million pictures of my bedroom before, but I'm finally feeling really good about it because we got our wall-to-wall seagrass installed this weekend, so be patient with me while I show you more pics! 

Here it is when we bought the house last year:


It has wall-to-wall cream carpeting and it did not fare well with our family & lifestyle.  So as you might remember from this post, we painted the paneling & added a chandelier and cheapie roman shades and curtains.  (Both of which I'd eventually like to upgrade...  But I also want to replace the back window with a set of steel french doors and a little balcony too so there's always something, right?)  Anyway, we found the antique brass headboard on the side of the road near our house and it's still to this day one of my best trash picks.  I used a lot of what I had to put together a white room that I could just "not think" in (ie completely relax).  Anyway, we're still mnissing a few things like a bedskirt and the perfect massive white hide rug but here's what it looks like now:

My $13 repainted Gustavian chair moves around the room:

And I think it looks best like this:

We are loving the seagrass!!!   We've had it in our basement family room/ office for over a year so we knew what we were getting into.  Typically, it would hurt my feet late at night & really in early in the morning.  BUT, now that it's been in the bedroom for a few days, I guess I've gotten used to it.  Seagrass is hard & rough but not scratchy.  (For more detailed info on seagrass & other natural rug materials & my thoughts on them , check out this post here.)  I plan on adding a soft white cow hide under the bed so when our feet first hit the floor it feels super-soft but I'm honestly surprised at how okay my feet are now.

Christian doesn't mind it either... 

I added thse old orange velvet striped pillows I made a bunch of years ago because I wanted to warm it up for Fall.  (Our dog uses them more than we do & her usual spot it curled up between them...  rough life.)

Here's a picture of what it was like before with the big body pillow & some other white bedding. 

(I switch it up all the time & am very weird about clean sheets/ bedding. We usually change our sheets at least twice/ week but I'm happiest changing them every other day, but too lazy to actually do it most of the time. I love the smell & feel of just-out-of the-wash-sheets and it's kind of one of those little free luxuries we can provide for ourselves... well, really me because I think dave could care less. (And, since our dog loves to sleep on the bed-- and in the bed when it's cold-- it's not unusual for met to come into the room to find paw prints on the bed. However, (and here's my little white bedding arguement/ rant: Some people say that white bedding isn't practical when you have dogs & kids & I couldn't disagree more. You see, I want to know when there's something dirty on my bed, not camoflauge it. I'm not saying that you have to have white bedding if you have dogs/ kids, only that if you do want it, it's great for germaphobes and people like me who don't mind washing the bedding frequently... But the white quilt and duvet only get washed every couple of weeks which is basically whenever the dog gets dirty paws on them.) Sorry for that! :)

And now onto the not-so-pretty (but oh-so-wonderful) dark secret of our bedroom.  WE HAVE A TV IN OUR BEDROOM.  (gasp!!)  I got it for Dave for his birthday this past May and since we don't have cable, it only works to watch movies from the dvd player or online.   We installed it behind the door when you first walk in.  Most people don't even notice it when they're getting a tour until we point it out, but when we close the door at night, it's prefect for watching movies in bed.  I know all about all of the "no TVs in the bedroom" rules and the supposed effects on people's love lives & all of that, but we love it.  I love snuggling up in bed and watching a good movie... especially when I'm sick. 

We rigged it so that the dvd player and laptop station are hidden in our closet which, as  you can see, runs right behind the TV. 

I'll show you more pics in here when I get some wallpaper and a chandelier up.  (hahaha which will be a good long while!)

Here's a quick pic of my jewely on the wall which is so insanely practical.  I'm thinking of adding more of this near the vanirty area in our bathroom because I really only wear the stuff that's out.  (Except all summer long I've been wearing my Kayce Hughes wooden beaded necklace and pretty much nothing else.  I'm going to do a post on it soon because it's one of the best pieces of jewelry I've ever owned and you probably need it ;)

And here's one last pic of my room as it looks about 1/3 of the time:

But, I'm working reeeeeally hard on making my bed every morning.  (Skillsets for 20-somethings- I should teach a class! ha)  I've done it every day since Thursday, which is when the new seagrass went it...  I find it's so much more satisfying to make your bed when you like your room.  Hope you enjoyed the tour and don't be surprised when I show you every angle & then some again when I finally find my hide ;) 
Have a beautiful day!!!

xoxo, Lauren

*Paint is FreshAire Choice's "Beach Pearl" (the no VOC brand @ Home Depot)
*Seagrass is available through Lauren Liess Interiors and was installed by the Tolvin Carpet Customizer (he's the best!!)
*Brass apothecary lamp- Robert Abbey
*Bedding-a mix of custom, Target & West Elm
*Nightstand dressers & Curtains- Ikea
*Roman Shades- Sears
*All else is vintage/ antique

If you want to know more about seagrass check out this post 
If you'd like help creating a home you absolutely love, contact me about our design services.

My first iPad encounter

I finally had a chance to play with iPad. Just for a few moments while passing through the Apple store at the Sydney International Airport - enough to formulate my "first impression"… it is sooo tiny! Till now I have seen iPad only on pictures and in my imagination it was so much larger (closer to A4 page size but it actually approximates only B5 size).

Overall, I like how it works! Touch screen is so sensitive (maybe a bit too sensitive for my liking). Enlarging and scrolling page content is fun and so natural. I like how onscreen keyboard appears automatically when you tap on text input box. Hat down for Apple usability designers who first came up with that navigation and interaction idea!

I jumped straight on the internet to see how my site worked on iPad and … it works perfectly as is should! Because it has been designed to work with all major browsers - including Safari supported by iPad. It looks good too (thanks to great screen resolution of iPad)! I am yet to experience custom built apps but maybe at the next stopover.

I would like to finish off with a few comments on the design of web pages to work well in iPad:
  • Use high resolution images for all background graphics so they look good when zoomed to/ enlarged in iPad.
  • Where possible, opt for large buttons and text input fields so it is easy to "click on" with "fat fingers", without the need to enlarge the page content.
  • Long pages are not a problem on iPad as scrolling is so simple!
  • Design pages to fit content to window so, it can fit on small screen sizes like iPad (if it is too big, iPad will reduce its size to fit available space horizontally).

Looks like that those great navigation capabilities I referred to above were not invented entirely by Apple designers… the company is sued by the original inventor of some of those fancy navigation functionality who is seeking damages totalling U$625.5 million for infringing 3 of his patents.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

To my macroeconomist friends: if you are going to do urban economics, please read the urban economics literature first.

I saw a paper from a famous macroeconomist a week or so ago that proposed that cities with high incomes relative to house prices produce more utility than those cities with low incomes realtive to house prices. Using this metric, he concluded that Flint was among the five highest utility cities in the US. This might have been a clue that there was something wrong with his utility measure.

The systems of cities literature (see Jan Brueckner's chapter in the Handbook of Urban Economics) and the quality of life literature (see Stuart Gabriel Joe Mattey & William Wascher's RSUE paper) shows that in a country with mobility, utility tends to get equalized across cities, and so that places with high house prices relative to income have more non-housing amenities than places with lower house prices. I can testify to the reasonableness of of this, as while Los Angeles is expensive (as well as congested), I do not find myself tempted to move anywhere else, suggesting that I, at least, derive a great deal of utility from living here (I recognize that lots of people are not so enamored of LA, but enough of us are to keep the price of housing high relative to other places). Other places like LA include New York, London, Paris, Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Sydney, etc.

This produces an efficient outcome, for if Los Angeles were less expensive, it would be even more congested. On the other hand, St. Louis' cheap house prices should eventually attract people back to it. But it also produces an unfair outcome, because it is very difficult for low income people in Los Angeles to find reasonably priced housing in reasonable locations. Perhaps the goal of housing policy should be to allow everyone to be able to choose the city in which to live, while at the same time distorting the relative prices of cities as little as possible. I am not sure how one does both.

Potatoes and Human Health, Part I

Potatoes: an Introduction

Over 10,000 years ago, on the shores of lake Titicaca in what is now Peru, a culture began to cultivate a species of wild potato, Solanum tuberosum. They gradually transformed it into a plant that efficiently produces roundish starchy tubers, in a variety of strains that suited the climactic and gastronomic needs of various populations. These early farmers could not have understood at the time that the plant they were selecting would become the most productive crop in the world*, and eventually feed billions of people around the globe.

Wild potatoes, which were likely consumed by hunter-gatherers before domestication, are higher in toxic glycoalkaloids. These are defensive compounds that protect against insects, infections and... hungry animals. Early farmers selected varieties that are low in bitter glycoalkaloids, which are the ancestors of most modern potatoes, however they didn't abandon the high-glycoalkaloid varieties. These were hardier and more tolerant of high altitudes, cold temperatures and pests. Cultures living high in the Andes developed a method to take advantage of these hardy but toxic potatoes, as well as their own harsh climate: they invented chuños. These are made by leaving potatoes out in the open, where they are frozen at night, stomped underfoot and dried in the sun for many days**. What results is a dried potato with a low glycoalkaloid content that can be stored for a year or more.

Nutritional Qualities

From a nutritional standpoint, potatoes are a mixed bag. On one hand, if I had to pick a single food to eat exclusively for a while, potatoes would be high on the list. One reason is that they contain an adequate amount of complete protein, meaning they don't have to be mixed with another protein source as with grains and legumes. Another reason is that a number of cultures throughout history have successfully relied on the potato as their principal source of calories, and several continue to do so. A third reason is that they're eaten in an unrefined, fresh state.

Potatoes contain an adequate amount of many essential minerals, and due to their low phytic acid content (1), the minerals they contain are well absorbed. They're rich in magnesium and copper, two minerals that are important for insulin sensitivity and cardiovascular health (2, 3). They're also high in potassium and vitamin C. Overall, they have a micronutrient content that compares favorably with other starchy root vegetables such as taro and cassava (4, 5, 6). Due to their very low fat content, potatoes contain virtually no omega-6, and thus do not contribute to an excess of these essential fatty acids.

On the other hand, I don't have to eat potatoes exclusively, so what do they have to offer a mixed diet? They have a high glycemic index, which means they raise blood sugar more than an equivalent serving of most carbohydrate foods, although I'm not convinced that's a problem in people with good blood sugar control (7, 8). They're low-ish in fiber, which could hypothetically lead to a reduction in the number and diversity of gut bacteria in the absence of other fiber sources. Sweet potatoes, an unrelated species, contain more micronutrients and fiber, and have been a central food source for healthy cultures (9). However, the main reasons temperate-climate cultures throughout the world eat potatoes is they yield well, they're easily digested, they fill you up and they taste good.

In the next post, I'll delve into the biology and toxicology of potato glycoalkaloids, and review some animal data. In further posts, I'll address the most important question of all: what happens when a person eats mostly potatoes... for months, years, and generations?

* In terms of calories produced per acre.

** A simplified description. The process can actually be rather involved, with several different drying, stomping and leaching steps.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Antique Wheat Grinder

Anyone know the official name?  Found it and love it.  It used to be used for grinding up wheat into flour.

I love finding beautiful things I never even knew existed.  This one has a pretty gold nailhead design. 
The Pure Style Home online store is opening up soon and & I can't wait!!

If you're in the DC area this weekend, be sure to go to the DC flea!!  Eddie & Jaithan are here & would love it if you could come!!  They're the best!!  Check here for details.

xoxo, Lauren

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Speaking at Wise Traditions 2010

I'm happy to announce that I'll be presenting at the Weston A. Price foundation's 2010 Wise Traditions conference. The conference will be held in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, Nov 12-14. The theme is the politics of food.

Sally Fallon Morell has invited me to give a talk on the diet and health of Pacific islanders. The talk will be titled "Kakana Dina: Diet and Health in the Pacific Islands", and it will take place on Sunday, November 14th from 4:00 to 5:20 pm. In preparation for the talk, I've read eight books and countless journal articles. Although some of the material will be familiar to people who follow the blog, I will not be rehashing what I've already published. I have nearly an hour and a half to talk, so I'll be going into some depth on the natural history and traditional food habits of Pacific island populations. Not just macronutrient breakdowns... specific foods and traditional preparation methods.

Learn about the health of traditional Pacific island populations, and what has changed since Western contact. Learn about traditional cooking and fermentation techniques. See unpublished photos from the Kitava study, courtesy of Dr. Staffan Lindeberg. Learn about the nutritional and ceremonial role of mammals including pork... and the most gruesome food of all.

I hope to see you there!

Kitava photo courtesy of Dr. Staffan Lindeberg

While Arrow showed the impossibility of a well defined ordering of social preferences...

...we tend to act as if there is one anyway. That is, we place a lot of focus on GDP per capita when evaluating economic success. By this measure, the US is, of course, successful. By a slightly different measure from the OECD (go to page 37), average disposable income per household, the US ranks second after Luxembourg among the nations measured. Luxembourg has about the same population of Long Beach, so it is hard to worry too much about it.

But a social welfare function that looks at the lowest decile of income is just as legitimate (or perhaps I should say, illegitimate). By this measure, the US ranks 20th among countries measured, which places it toward the bottom of the OECD pack, with levels similar to Greece and Italy.

On the other hand, the top 40 percent of American household are better off than their counterparts in all other countries (with the exception of Luxembourg), reflecting a great deal of affluence across a large number of people. So where to pick? As Arrow would say, that is really impossible.

Client Project Kitchen & Family Room Plans

I often show 'before & afters' on the blog with explanations of why decisions were made, but I rarely show in-progress projects.  It's mostly because, as a reader, I myself love the instant gratification of a good 'before & after' and partly because work in progress never looks as good as it does when finished, and I don't want you to think I'm awful ;) 

BUT...  because my mind's often  always on my projects and because I used my blog as a bit of an inspiration board of sorts and a place to communicate with people, I often feel like I'm sort of keeping a main component of myself/ my creative process off of the blog.  SO...  I've decided to try to start sharing a few in-progess projects with you.  You'll have to forgive the COMPLETE lack of styling and completion in the projects but I do think you might enjoy seeing where it all starts. 

So, without further ado, I want to share some before pictures of a project I've been working on for a while.  My client's name is Ira and she has two beautiful little girls & a husband.  They entertain a lot with other families and want their family room (below) to seat more people, be stylish yet comfortable, and feel young and happy (like them!).  Here it is when I first visited, 'before':

It's a massive family-friendly space with a huge TV in a nook next to the fireplace.  They hang out in here every day.  Ira has an amazing sense of style & taste but felt her home was lacking something.  It was beautiful and a bit serious and wasn't as personal as she wanted it to be.  Ira tends to like primarly cool colors with a hit of warmth injected.  I'd describe her style as "sophistcated pretty..."  She likes an elegant mix of classic and modern with a youthful edge.  When she has something to show me that she likes, I know it's going to be beautiful. 

Part of what makes design so  rewarding is helping people figure out their own personal style and helping them translate it into their homes.  Everyone has her own unique style and I love looking at rooms and making decisions through my clients' eyes...  it's almost like putting on a pair of colored glasses because once you learn who your client is design-wise, you need to put on their "glasses" when designing.  Of course, it's still your eyes looking through the glasses so you never lose sight of your aesthetic and beliefs and knowledge, but you do see things differently than you would for yourself. 

Anyway, the family room is open to the kitchen.  Below is a photo of Ira's kitchen before:

{Before-- LOVE the fixture!}

Ira wanted to lighten it up & cool it down.  She chose a warm white/ cream and you can see the newly installed cabinetry:

{Mid-project/ Now}

We're going with a pale gray-blue on the walls in both the kitchen and family room.

{Mid Project/ Now}

We've chosen these beautiful glass mosaic tiles for the backsplash and are running them up the entire wall over the sink/ around the windows:

Here's the chandelier for over the table:

Here's a quick pic of some of the fabrics we're using in the family room:

I love them all!!  The warm kind of camel-golden fabric towards the top-left is an existing sofa Ira has in the basement that we're moving upstairs.  We're using Windsor's Smith's white & blue-gray linen on the curtains and this on the custom English arm sofa:

At the base of the sofa, we're having nailheads placed to outline the curvey design of the fabric.  We're also doing two tufted wingchairs in a blue-gray mohaire velvet (swoon!!!) and I found this cool vintage sunburst table for the coffee table: 

I love its distression and warmth.  It will be really beautiful with the gold tones of the existing sofa.

Here's the existing sofa fabric and the ottoman fabric:

Here'a c lose-up of the Windsor Smith fabric I'm in love with:

And one last photo of an embroidered linen for a pillow on the existing sofa:

There's so much more to share with you & I'll keep you updated along the way.  The hardwood floors have been installed and it's soon to be painted. 

xoxo, Lauren