It’s Looking More and More Like It’s Bainbridge

I floated a carefully crafted proposal to mostly telecommute that was devoid of any mention of in-person meeting intervals but which contained wording about only wishing to do so if it did not damage my career with my employer. That prompted acceptance of the concept, with the general idea of fortnightly appearances in person.

That interval is precisely twice as frequent as the desired interval for making periodic trips from Bellingham. Moreover, if the current week is any indication, it seems as if there’s a high chance the interval will end up being more frequent than once every other week, which means that ease of travel to the city really needs to be of paramount importance.

One thing I’m entertaining doing in response to the elitist class privilege aspect of Bainbridge Island is to rent a two-bedroom apartment then take a roommate, charging a rate based on income as evidenced by paystubs or some other such sliding-scale basis. Or maybe just charge no more than what the going rate in Seattle would be. The general idea would be to start out by at least doing something small to undermine such privilege.

Though at this stage it’s still very much up in the air, and although the odds probably do favor Bainbridge at this point, it’s not entirely unforeseeable that I’ll chose some other option, perhaps even to give up on leaving the city for another year or two in hopes of building further employer confidence over the concept of working remotely so that I can move further afield and leave the Seattle metro area entirely.

The Greers Nail It

I found this while doing some searches on intentional communities in the Pacific Northwest:

Seattle….it’s an interesting and progressive city, but I don’t think I’d want to live there.  Of course, we’re not really looking to live in a big city, but if we were to change our minds, I don’t see us in Seattle.  One of the biggest disappointments of Seattle was the public transit.  From what I saw, they just don’t have it quite together yet.  They are very late in adopting some kind of light rail or subway system and are planning a very expensive project to retrofit it into the downtown area.  There is a very short monorail through downtown that really doesn’t take you very far, and it was built for the World’s Fair in the 1960’s, so it is a bit outdated.  And pricey – it is $4 for a ride of 1 mile. More of a tourist attraction than a functional mode of transit.

Though for me it’s not quite the same: I actually did want to live here, to do what I’ve done since June of 2011: find a good job, do a good job at it, then switch to telecommuting. Which I plan to follow up by leaving Seattle.

Seattle has been a great place for me to engage in a desired life transition. But as a place to settle long-term, no thanks. As such, there’s a very good chance that it’s now served its purpose for me, thus it is time to seriously consider exiting.

Investigating Bainbridge Island

I spent the afternoon investigating another island alternative to Seattle, should my desire to telecommute from Bellingham for one reason or another not come to pass: Bainbridge Island.

It’s not as culturally compatible with what I desire as Vashon Island is, but all in all it is a far more practical location and could be a workable solution. Vashon’s sole town is in the center of the island, miles (and an arduous hill) from the nearest ferry landing, and that ferry goes not to Downtown Seattle but to one of Seattle’s outer neighborhoods, a significant bus ride from Downtown. There are a few foot ferries that run from Vashon Island to Downtown, but the key word is few: miss them, and you’ve gone from a little bit late to incredibly late.

Bainbridge Island, by contrast, has its sole town on the same harbor the ferry docks at, and every run of that ferry goes directly to the dock in Downtown Seattle. So I would be able to walk from my apartment or condo on the island to the ferry, and then walk from the ferry to my office Downtown. No worrying about missing the one or two useful ferry runs of the day, or about timing transfers from bus to boat.

Bainbridge, like Vashon, is a once-rural island that has turned mostly into exurban hobby farms. Thus, it still has the minus of not having any large and truly wild areas on-island. In Bainbridge’s case, however, that doesn’t matter so much, because the far side of the island is connected by a bridge to the Kitsap Peninsula, which in turn is connected by a bridge to the Olympic Peninsula. It ends up being possible to drive to some very nice hinterlands without having to compete for limited vehicle space on the ferries with all the other summer weekenders.

In fact, that limited vehicle space acts as a sort of limiting valve for how busy the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas can get on summer weekends, meaning less crowds (and a very low chance of traffic congestion) for me.

So, a condo on Bainbridge could work for me. There’s no food co-op there, but the one grocery store on the island is one of those rare supermarkets which really does live up to its claim of having a full and comprehensive selection of organic and natural foods. (I’ve seen such things before on islands.) And there’s the basic selection of businesses any town of 10 or 20 thousand people would be expected to have (in addition to lots of upscale boutiques). I wouldn’t have to live a life revolving around a car for my daily routine.

But, Bainbridge is still very much part of the Seattle metro area. It’s easier access to nature (compared to the big city across the water) is a privilege rationed out on the basis of the ability to pay a significant premium; it’s one of the most expensive places to live in the Pacific Northwest.

I have a good job and no kids to support, so I could afford to live in an apartment or condo there. That’s not the issue. The issue is that a greater urban area which reserves basics like access to nature and a home in a quiet, unpolluted neighborhood so much according to socioeconomic class is not an urban area in keeping with my core values.

In Bellingham, by contrast, everyone lives a bicycle ride (not a drive in a car) away from large wild areas. The children of the poor and the working class can ride their bikes on the trail to Larrabee State Park as easily as the wealthy California retirees. There’s even a mobile home court which abuts a green space in Bellingham; housing close to nature is not strictly limited to the affluent, either.

So, Bainbridge would work as an alternative, but it’s very much a “Plan B” alternative. My primary desire involves shaking the dust of Seattle’s elitist class privilege from my feet.

Three Observations on the Issaquah Highlands

They’re definitely trying to use land more efficiently than normal suburbia. There’s lots of townhomes and apartments there. There’s not always huge amounts of separation between differing land usage; it is possible to easily walk from some of the housing to some of the shops. A big chunk of the land was set aside as a wildland park (which was the main reason I was there, to go for a midwinter hike).

Particularly at its current stage, it’s still very much auto-oriented suburbia. It has its own freeway exit, and is served by a feeder road far wider than one would have in an older, traditional city for an equivalent-sized neighborhood. While there’s plans to build enough shops to make it self-sufficient, it’s not there yet: for example, there’s still no grocery store at all there; you must drive several miles to the nearest one. There’s big gaps in the still-incomplete development that beg to be driven across. Most of the housing is not at this time a convenient walk to shopping. Transit service, at this stage, is minimal.

It shows the limitations of capitalism. If you’re not affluent, all you can afford there is a condo or a townhome. If you’re well off, there’s detached homes (with views) available. There’s very large homes on large lots if you’re really rolling in the dough-re-mi. In other words, it’s not really repudiating the wasteful American lifestyle: it’s merely pricing the non-rich out of some aspects of it, turning it into more of an elite privilege than it presently is. (Which it definitely is, when you look at things on a world-wide scale.)

Home Ownership is a Tool, Not a Goal

This goes along with my recent post on stability; just like stability, while apparently sought by many as a desirable end goal in and of itself, is not a valid end goal, neither is home ownership. In this case, it’s a distinction between a tool and a goal, rather than the validity of something as a goal in and of itself.

I see home ownership as very much a tool (or maybe tactic or strategy would be better words) not a goal. Part of that’s because I’m fortunate enough to have enough money to easily afford a home, should I choose to purchase one.

It’s also because life is never simply a decision about which doors to open: it’s also a decision about which doors to close. That’s because those metaphorical doors turn out to be connected by metaphorical strands of very hard, thin, but uncuttable cable, and they all open away from the metaphorical hallway. Open one door, and the previously open door connected to it across the hall slams shut.

Going to college opened the door to a professional career, which opened the door to a higher salary than if I had just gone to trade school. But if I had gone to trade school and become an electrician instead, I would have had much more freedom to choose my city of residence: building trades are in demand everywhere, while software jobs are concentrated in a few major metropolitan areas. That latter fact has been to my regret in recent years.

Home ownership opens the door to greater stability in one’s housing situation, and the door to having the freedom to modify one’s home as one sees fit. But the door across the hall labeled “freedom to relocate easily” slams shut: the transaction costs involved in exchanging one owned home for another are steep indeed.

But, to reiterate, I am not seeking stability right now. My employment situation is presently about as good as it could be, but Seattle is lacking enough in what I see as making a place desirable to live in that there’s no way I’d want to make the sort of long term commitment to live here that owning a home here would entail.

All in all, I’d much rather be living in Bellingham. It’s much easier to get out into wild nature there; unlike in Seattle, you don’t have to fight your way through a wide moat of sprawl and horrible traffic to get out into the country. It doesn’t have all the amenities of a big city, but (thanks to many decades of dysfunctional local and state policy) neither does Seattle (consider Seattle’s absolutely pathetic mass transit infrastructure as a case in point). And, being a college town, it’s actually quite sophisticated for its size; for example, it has a very robust local arts scene.

I plan on taking the first steps to pursue that goal this year, by attempting to transition to telecommuting for most of my work. Even if those plans go far better than expected, I still don’t see them ending in my purchasing a home in Bellingham in the near future. Bellingham is sorely lacking in employment opportunities (inability to find employment there, despite trying, is why I’m not there already). The only practical way to move there is to move together with one’s job, and I’m not yet sure enough about the longevity of my current employment situation to feel comfortable committing to living there full time.

Fast forward a few years into the future, and if everything is going fine with my current employer and it looks like something that’s really going to last, then it will be time to conclude that the doors opened by home ownership in Bellingham outweigh the ones closed by it.

Alternatively, if I go through a few exercises of trying and failing for various reasons to secure telecommuting to work from outside of Seattle, and I’m burned out by the process, and I decide it’s time to give up on that goal and pursue other goals from within Seattle, then it might be time to start thinking about purchasing a home in here.

But only then, not now. In neither scenario is now the right time to commit to settling down. Doing so would entail giving up too soon, and in general, “giving up too soon” is something I’ve tended (to my detriment) to do altogether too much. It’s the time in my life to entertain the virtue of persistence for a few more years at least.

Stability is Not Necessarily a Good Thing

So many people tend to think it is, but it’s not. Not really.

It’s a good thing if one is in a good situation. It’s definitely not a good thing if one is in a situation (or a place) that one does not like. In the latter case, “stability” amounts to being trapped against one’s will.

It’s why I’m not rushing into home ownership. Seattle is really not a very good match for many of my values. It’s better for me than Portland, and it’s a useful place to be while I try and get things arranged so I can live someplace more to my liking (which probably means telecommuting), but that’s about it.

Seeking stability prematurely would merely mean entrapping myself in the near future.

There is No Excuse for Not Having GC

About five years ago, I set out to learn C++. I gave up after a few days when I ended up going down the rabbit hole of what’s on the heap, what’s on the stack, and what can be freed when. It was an enormous headache, and nowhere was it clearly and succinctly explained.

And it wasn’t even necessary to worry about. Modern languages like Java, Python, and C# all have garbage collection. Program in one of those and you don’t ever have to care much about memory management. The language subsystem that runs your programs does it all for you.

Given that memory leaks are one of the most common, and one of the most difficult to track down and resolve, classes of bugs, this is a win of simply monumental proportions. It is unfathomable why one would wish to voluntarily relinquish such a boon.

The standard answer to this observation is to point out that there are certain timing-dependent programs (typically ones that access raw devices), where GC gets in the way and can cause lost data.

I don’t think this argument has much validity when it comes to arguing in favor or not providing GC. Rather, it is an argument in favor of providing the programmer with control over GC. All one needs are four basic operations:

  1. Turn automatic GC off.
  2. Turn it back on again.
  3. Perform a GC cycle manually.
  4. GC a single datum manually.

With those, one can do timing-critical programming and not have GC get in the way one bit.

By turning GC off and reclaiming things on a case-by-case basis as needed, one can even use the same memory-management paradigm that primitive, functionally obsolete languages like C++ mandate you to use. Even if you do that, you can still perform occasional invocations of manual GC cycles, and log error messages if anything got garbage collected, and your program will detect its own memory leaks.

About the only rationale I can think of for not having GC at all is that one is writing some sort of embedded code on hardware so limited that there is not memory or CPU cycles available for it. That’s almost certainly a tiny fraction of all programming tasks.