EcoFinder & Regional Recycling Database Project

The EcoFinder web service provides local recycling, reuse and disposal information for residents and businesses. Data is available via a web form, and iPhone app and an XML data feed. 

EcoFinder home page:

EcoFinder XML Feed Documentation

EcoFinder iPhone app

Additionally, I have assembled a group of local agencies to collaboratively develop the next generation of recycling information software, currently known as the Regional Recycling Database.

Civic Commons blog post about Regional Recycling Database project

Gettin’ Out and About on the Peninsula

Spring is here in San Francisco and the weather has been downright incredible. Consequently, I’ve been trying to get out and about in the California countryside to counteract the sedentary urban lifestyle. Between biking and yoga and the gym, I stay plenty active enough, but none of that can substitute for time immersed in the great out-of-doors. I’ve been delighted to discover that there is an abundance of amazing hiking just a few minutes drive down the peninsula. Two weeks ago I hiked Sweeney Ridge, and today I hiked the Montara Mountain Trail out of San Pedro Valley Park, both near Pacifica. Here’s the map of where I was this morning:

If was pretty damn foggy today, but it made for some great ambience and a refreshing blast of moisture now and again.

And the fog may have kept a lot of other hikers away. I only saw one other group of three hikers, but I did see quite a bit of wildlife, including what I’m pretty sure was a bobcat. Yeah, pretty cool. I also happened across some quail, a couple warblers, juncos and phoebes, a big fat banana slug and a rufous-sided towhee up close and personal. All in all, a beautiful time out on the trail, breaking in some new boots and getting some time away to celebrate my 36th birthday a day early.

More Notes from SXSWi – Medium, Message & Wood Ducks

It’s Monday mid-afternoon and I am sitting on a couch at a charging station with geeks of all stripes swirling around me. Those of us on the couches are all, minus one or two, typing away on our shiny silver MacBooks or white iBooks, but if I could see a pastiche of all those screens I’m guessing it would not look so uniform. Sure there would be Twitter and Facebook profiles, but also business plans and invoices, lines of code, maybe even My point is that even though on the outside this army of geeks may look somewhat similar — we do have a stereo type after all: lots of privilege, mostly white, many pairs of eye glasses, a preponderance of gadgets — under the surface this army is concerned with an incredible array of ideas in the digital milieu. And lest you think that milieu is itself limited, just think about how the Internet is so quickly changing everything from science to sociality.

I’ve been experiencing an incredible cross section of this diverse milieu, tailored to my own interests but providing much broader exposure. The sessions I’ve been hitting have ranged from web content strategy to content management systems, from crowdsourcing to the publicity and privacy issues of being a part of the crowd. Of particular general interest was Dan Roam, famous for his Healthcare Napkins slide show. The main thrust of his talk “Blah, Blah, Blah….Why Words Don’t Matter” was to help us understand as communicators that we can’t really share an idea unless we have the ability to both talk about it and show it. Another incredible session was Danah Boyd’s keynote on Privacy and Publicity. This issue is so timely and her research about how we use social media so far ahead of the curve than most discussions of these issues that I plan on posting my notes when I have a chance to clean them up. For the time being and the truly interested, here is the full text of her talk.

At this point I’m going to do something that might smack a bit of self-promotion, but in reality is much more practical…I’ve been tweeting pretty regularly at and I’d encourage you to take a gander. Not only will you see some tiny morsels I found tasty enough to share, you will also get an idea (I think) of the ebb and flow of ideas and action at SXSW. Sometimes things come clear and fast, other times slow and hazy but in one way or another, everything has just flowed.

And so, on Day 5, nearing the end of Interactive and gearing up for the transition to Music, South by Southwest has not disappointed and Austin has most definitely delighted. Great food, better friends, both new and old, and pristine weather full of sun and warmth during the day and just enough of a chill at night. Most of all, I’ve been throughly enjoying my twice daily bike rides along the river between my hostel and the convention center – once in the morning to the conference and then back later in the day to drop off my bag and regroup before heading back out into the fray.

During one of those rides I happened upon a group Wood Ducks in a small stream behind the convention center that feeds in to the river. Now every time I ride across the bridge that crosses that stream, I’ve stopped and lingered. I’ve seen up to 6 males and 3 or 4 females, and yesterday I even saw a male mount a female. It is spring time, after all. These petite, color-by-numbers creatures have brought some extra joy to my days, and some much needed persepctive on all the heady, techy ideas being batted around. For in this arena of ideas, it is far too easy to miss the forest for the trees. As Marshall McLuhan famously said, the medium may well be the message, but that is precisely why we need to be conscious of the message we want to spread as we build the medium. If we don’t take the time to do so, we run the risk of having the medium determine the message. For me, those ducks are a beautiful, tangible, and very necessary reminder of one message I am trying to bring to the medium — environmental responsibility and collective stewardship of our home, planet Earth. I challenge others to verbalize their own messages as we navigate the information stream that is SXSWi.

Crushin’ Concrete

This weekend I had the perverse pleasure of wielding a badass gas-powered saw to tear up the concrete that blankets the backyard of my friend Jon’s new home. Even with the diamond tipped blade it was still slow-going, hard work. We didn’t finish, but we did make some major cuts and create some sweet urbanite bricks for Jon’s front yard. Here are some pictures of the process, including a guest cameo by none other than Justin Lehrer late in the day.

A Tap Water Pilgrimage to Hetch Hetchy

(This post originally appeared in the SF Environment blog on just last week and is based on a true story.)

We’ve got great tap water here in San Francisco, but do you know where it comes from? What’s more, have you ever been there? After five years in the Bay Area, I finally had the chance to visit my tap water at its source in the Hetch Hetchy valley of the Sierra Nevada. My name is Lawrence Grodeska, and I’m the Internet Communications Coordinator at SF Environment, and this is the story of one man and his quest for connection with his water supply.

Early one Friday morning about a month ago, I left San Francisco with two friends for a weekend of backpacking. We drove due east for 4 hours and finally hit the trailhead at O’Shaughnessy Dam, the gateway to the Hetch Hetchy reservoir. At 312 feet, the dam itself does not have the impact of the Hoover Dam (726 feet!), but O’Shaughnessy’s story is the stuff of legend.

In 1913, from a proposal by then San Francisco Mayor James Phelan, and aided by lobbying efforts of national proponents of the development of natural resources, Congress passed the Raker Act. The Act granted SF “certain rights of way in, over and through certain public lands, the Yosemite National Park, and Stanislaus National Forest…and the public lands in the State of California, and for other purposes.”

Those “other purposes” boiled down to the rights to flood the Hetch Hetchy valley to create a water-and-power system for the City & County of San Francisco. Situated in a pristine canyon in the northwest of Yosemite, the steep canyon walls were ideal conditions for a reservoir. The Army Corps of Engineers built the O’Shaughnessy Dam over the span of 7 years, battling rugged terrain and harsh elements, as well as the strong protests of fabled conservationist John Muir, to complete the dam in 1923.

I had long been curious to see Hetch Hetchy, the source of the water that comes out of our San Francisco faucets so consistently and deliciously. Perhaps it was the curiously alluring name – apparently the Central Miwok word for a common edible grass in the valley. Or maybe the contentious issue of who should profit from the water system, or even the engineering feats necessary to deliver such a municipal gift across 190 miles. More than anything, however, being an urban dweller removed from the source of his sustenance, I considered a visit to my water supply a pilgrimage of sorts.

Finally stepping onto the O’Shaughnessy Dam that day, backpack and all, I could feel the collective effort that was harnessed to create this enduring tribute to humanity’s ingenuity and brash survival instincts. My three short days of exploring the upper reaches of my watershed paled in comparison to that herculean effort, but I felt proud to be getting in touch with my water, and very eager to trace that water upstream.

After our initial admiration subsided, we trekked through the dry, hot heat of late summer in the Sierra. Thanks to the Raker Act, we had to trek an extra mile! The Act established some strict criteria for the protection of San Francisco’s water supply which are followed to this day. “No person shall bathe, wash clothes or cooking utensils [in, or] any way pollute, the water within the limits of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir…or in the streams leading thereto, within one mile of said reservoir.” Despite the impassioned pleas of park Rangers upon entering Yosemite, we met a few folks on the trail who were still incredulous about the strict nature of these provisions. Maybe they’ve never drank unfiltered San Francisco tap water, because I think that is all the justification necessary.

Camping at Las Rancheria Falls that night was quite a treat. The small meadow situated at 5000 feet elevation was a perfect spot for taking in the late summer stars so resplendent during the new moon. It may sound like a tall tale, but that weekend I saw the most spectacular shooting star I have ever seen. I even learned a few new constellations with my trusty star chart, including the king, Cepheus.

The biggest delight of all, however, was bearing witness to the hydrological cycle that brings San Franciscans their water every day. There is a foot bridge which crosses Rancheria Falls, above which swimming is finally permitted in a spectacular swimming hole, chiseled by eons of sediment flow. I lingered long at this spot, but being the intrepid explorer, I needed to push further. Bushwhacking over a ridge and dropping back into the river bed, I found a long string of smaller, serene pools and plenty of smooth, wide rocks for sun bathing.

I spent most of my Saturday lounging about the upper reaches of this tributary to the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, a welcome opportunity to divest myself from the cares and concerns of life in the city. Relaxing on the rocks, dipping in and out of the stream, letting the ripples of sound wash over me, I was gently reminded of why water has been called the “molecule of life”. The very biochemistry of life on planet Earth depends upon the unique features of the water molecule.

I’ve always felt drawn to bodies of water, from swimming holes and streams to lakes and oceans. Whatever the reasons for water’s magnetism – basic chemistry or simple soothing pull – I did have a different perspective of Hetch Hetchy as I descended back into the valley on Sunday. Taking in the whole of the reservoir, in all its splendor and conundrum, I was grateful to know a bit more about the water I depend on everyday. For all the controversy over whether the dam and reservoir should be there and who profits from it, San Franciscans could do a lot worse.

So Awesome…And So True

cars_are_aholes, originally uploaded by noveltimes.

Sorry all you car owners, but these days, this really is how I feel. Mad props to my man Justin for snapping this one, on Milvia St., across from Berkeley High. And, of course, to the rock ‘n’ roller who penned this priceless piece o’ graffiti.

Japanese Convenience

7 Eleven / 7 & iHoldings, originally uploaded by noveltimes.

More from the Japan files: convenience, convenience, convenience! The Japanese are truly a tidy and efficient culture, at least that was a huge part of my experience there. Everything from the cleanest of streets to handy-dandy digital displays above the doors on trains, indicating which direction to head for whichever exit you may desire. Hand-in-hand with such fastidiousness comes a fascination with convenience. For yours I’ve tagged some of my pics as such — nori-to-go, vending machines of all stripes and, as the picture above suggests, many a corner convenience store.

Now, this particular chain has perhaps the worst name for a convenience store ever: “7 Eleven / 7 & iHoldings.” Which is it “7 Eleven” or “7 & iHoldings”? And what does “iHoldings” have to do with convenience? But, it turns out that this chain does have some special bragging rights — they have recently decided to start recycling their food waste on a national scale. Check it!

Convenience Store Chain Establishing a System to Recycle 100% of its Unsold Food

Seven & i Holdings Co., the parent company of the major convenience store chain Seven-Eleven Japan Co., started turning its food waste into animal feed on September 1, 2007, in cooperation with Agri Gaia System Co., a company specializing in food recycling. By the end of July 2007, Seven & i Holdings had already implemented the system of composting food waste from about 1,600 stores, or about 14 percent of all its stores.