Monday, August 30, 2010


I am lonely.

I live in the bay area, a sprawling metropolitan area that contains almost 7 million people. There are eighty-one units in my housing complex. And yet I somehow still feel isolated amongst the vast sea of people that fill my view.

I know I am not alone in this feeling. In the public discourse, the loss of community in our generation is almost cliche, but that doesn't make it any less real. Some people yearn for the "small town" intimacy or the bar where "everyone knows your name." For many of my generation who never lived in a small town, our closest analog is the college dorm or fraternity. We reminisce fondly about the times we could just walk into a neighbor's room, sit on his floor and procrastinate together. Now, the twenty-minute drive to see that old friend feels like a thousand miles, insurmountable without a "good reason" or a meal-centric event of some kind.

So how do we regain a sense of community? Well, there is a small, 19 home co-housing community being developed in Mountain View. The idea is to have a group of individual homes share both a large communal space (in this case, a 4000 sqft common house) and a desire to view each other as family. Communal dinners and events would be expected but not required. it sounds great, but unfortunately, the development (due to be completed in 2013) is also a bit out of our price range. Plus, one of the things that really made the college experience work was that we were all at the same stage of life with similar needs and wants. The Mountain View housing community is currently made up of the people with the time and money to undergo such an endeavor, namely people over 55.

So what's plan B? The housing market sucks (if you own a house like I do). Prices are low, and inventory is high. In fact, in my complex of 81 houses, there are five units for sale. Thus, the silver lining. If our friends bought those five houses, we could have our own little housing community. For reference, the cost is roughly half the cost of the co-housing community in Mountain View. We could even buy an extra house and use it as a shared space if necessary. It's still cheaper.

So, if you're thinking about buying a house and want a great house with a great developing community, check out the houses in my complex like this one. Make my dreams come true.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Our Greatest Natural Resource

Studies show that we could easily become 37% more efficient in our water use. Gasoline engines themselves are only about 25% efficient while solar panels are typically around 15% efficient at capturing the sun's energy. Horrendous no? Billions of dollars are currently being invested in making more efficient use of our resources. But there is one resource that doesn't often make it into the news or into investment portfolios, and yet it is perhaps the area we can improve in the most: human potential.

How efficient do you think you are at work? I'm not talking about the hours spent doing actual work vs. playing solitaire. I'm talking about how much of your potential skills, experience, and intellect are being leveraged by your company. If you work at McDonalds, is following the cash register script and all the procedures really using your talents to the fullest? Or if you work in an office, do you really feel like your effort is producing the maximum impact that it can, that filling out TPS reports fulfills your destiny?

I'd guess that globally the true potential of the workforce is being utilized at less than one percent. The conventional wisdom is that work sucks. It's supposed to suck. Sure, some of us are lucky enough to like our jobs, and yet I bet we all still complain about the stupidity of management or beaureacracy or inane cost-cutting procedures or whatnot. These things irk us beyond belief because deep down inside, we know that these things are keeping us from our true potential. We know that we can be more, do more, if only someone knew how to unlock that hidden promise.

A colloquial scientific tidbit is that humans only use 5% of their brain. People always say, "Imagine what we could do if you used all 100%." Well, as a society, we leverage people's potential even less efficiently. Imagine all the things we could accomplish and the problems we could solve if we tackled this challenge.

It is a challenge that may entail changing corporate structures, social circles, cultural desires, residential systems, and even our political system. And yet, if we stop for a moment and imagine a world where every person is truly all that he can be, then maybe, just maybe it's worth the investment.