Saturday, May 09, 2009

Dane County holds its first free recycling drop off for obsolete and toxic household electronics

Nightmare Vision of the Detritus of Our Consumer Society
What if they had a big, free recycling drop off for all those old computers, analog TVs and other household electronics and everybody came? You'd have a big traffic jam -- and also keep an estimated 250 tons of toxic trash (some of it ours) out of the Dane County Landfill. Seeing it all piled up in the parking lot of the Alliant Center Saturday was a striking reminder of how much electronic trash our consumer economy generates.

Dane County (Free) TV and Electronics Recycling Drop OffSame thing when we cleaned the accumulated gear out of the house the day before and loaded up the Subaru wagon we borrowed from M, who also helped load. We set out with our car full of tributes to the forgotten glories of analog television and VHS video Saturday morning. By approaching the Alliant Center from Olin Ave. rather than the Beltline, we avoided the massive traffic tangle caused by thousands of Dane County residents coming to unload their stuff without having to pay the usual $10 recycling fee for TVs and computers. We were in a long line of cars that took about a half hour to snake slowly through the back roads of the Alliant Center. But when it came time for unloading, a couple of volunteers emptied the entire car that took so much time and effort to load in less than two minutes, and we were on our way.

Dane County (Free) TV and Electronics Recycling Drop OffIt was quite an operation. Not perfect, but pretty smooth for what they were trying to do (traffic control could have been better organized, but they didn't expect the turnout they got). You'll find more pictures here of the assembly-line operation in which the two lines of incoming cars split into multiple unloading lanes, in which volunteers quickly emptied the cars and trucks onto the pavement of the parking lot, where the junk was palletized and loaded into semis for shipment to the Janesville reprocessing plant.

Fees for recycling individual TVs and computers just encourage people to pile them up in their basements and garages and hope they go away -- and for the less scrupulous to dump them in the countryside. An event like this is like a overdue library book amnesty. It brings the contraband out of hiding. Be nice if we could hold some more of these events on a regular basis (perhaps in a more decentralized fashion) until people get rid of the backlog in their homes.

Once we get the basements cleaned out, we shouldn't have to do this anymore. It would make more sense to include a modest fee in the purchase price and then allow people to return junk electronics to stores at no additional charge.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

We drove to Columbus for the Red Bud trees, but then we stayed for the architecture

Farmers and Merchants Union Bank
The annual Red Bud Festival is this Friday and Saturday in Columbus, so we thought we'd get a head start by driving up today to take a look around. We were a bit early on the Red Buds. Columbus is just a few days behind Madison in the leafing-out department. So we checked out the landmark Farmers and Merchants Union Bank instead.

Farmers and Merchants Union BankIt was the first time we've been in Columbus during normal business hours, able to tour the inside of the 1919 Louis Sullivan building. It was the last of eight Midwestern "jewel box" banks designed by the great Chicago architect. It's still a functioning bank with people going to teller windows to do their banking as if ATMs had never been invented. The ornate exterior was spruced up for the Johnny Depp film, Public Enemies, that opens this summer and parts of which were filmed in Columbus (standing in for a small town in Indiana) last year. Our guide, who showed us around the lobby and the second-floor mezzanine that houses a small museum, told us that the filmmakers had wanted to film in the lobby shown here, but it was just too narrow for all their lights and equipment.

City HallThe bank is on the National Register of Historic Places, but so is much of the entire downtown.
The Columbus downtown is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Columbus presents an almost perfect portrait of the late 19th century, and features over 200 turn-of-the-century commercial and residential buildings, which have been carefully preserved. Several buildings, such as the 1892 City Hall, 1916 Park Pavilion and 1912 Carnegie Library, all still serve their original purposes.

The 1919 Farmers and Merchants Union Bank is Columbus' greatest claim to fame. Every year architects, students and enthusiasts come to view and photograph the building, one of the last designed by the great Louis Sullivan. The tapestry brick, elaborately decorated with terra cotta ornamentation, is truly something to behold, and the five arched, stained glass windows cast a gorgeous light as the sun is setting. The bank maintains a small museum collection related to its history, and to Sullivan and his works, that is open and free to the public during regular banking hours.
The 1892 City Hall shown here is by architect Truman Dudley Allen, born in New York in 1829.

Down at Victor Allen's Coffee, trying out my Eee PC -- the little netbook that roars like a lion

The Little Netbook That Roars Like a Lion
I dearly love my nearly seven-year-old iMac desktop computer with the obsolete operating system (OSX 10.2). It still works fine with the software I've got (and all my photos and data are backed up in case the hard drive finally gives out). But there is a lot of stuff it just won't run, including the latest version of Flash.

The iMac needs a helper, something to run more recent software, and something wireless I can use to download photos and post them on the internet when I travel. Something about the size of a small MacBook would be nice -- but even smaller and much less expensive would be great, something cheap enough not to have to worry about it on the road. My new Asus Eee PC 1000HE fits the bill. Sure, it just runs Windows XP Home Edition, not OSX with whatever sleek animal extension Apple is giving them now, but I love it anyhow.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Hilldale development site's upside down flag of distress signals commercial real estate woes

Sign of an Upside Down Condo Market
Once this sign perfectly embodied the bold vision of developer Joseph Freed & Associates' new Hilldale: "Shop it. Live it. Love it." One-stop shopping and living, with condos and upscale shops -- including a planned Whole Foods -- all in easy proximity to each other.

The intersection of University Ave. And Segoe Rd. was the planned site of the second phase of the Hilldale redevelopment. A big new Whole Foods store was going to anchor the site, which would also include two high rise condos. In the fall of 2007, buildings were torn down (including the Hilldale Theater) and excavation began. The fence went up, and with it the sign, "Shop it. Live it. Love it."

Then the condo market softened. Freed regrouped and came up with a series of new plans. Eventually the condos were to be replaced by an office building and a hotel. Construction was said to be about to begin. Then Whole Foods pulled out. Nothing remained but a big hole. And an upside down sign. I'm sure the eyesore will be developed eventually, but I'm not holding my breath.