Inside Tom's Head - September 2020

01 Oct 2020

September 2020 was a strange month here in the PNW. The large fires were all safely distant from Olympia, but still there was enough smoke to drive the AQI above 300, which is really, really bad (though it was even worse elsewhere). It ended up being about a week of driving to work and spending as little time outside as possible. With the pandemic, that made an already small world shrink further, which was . . . sub-optimal. What was perhaps worse was not being able to open the windows of my house at night and trying to sleep in an 80 degree room.

I was surprised that there are so few air quality sensors in my area. I found two publicly accessible sensors within 5-15 miles of my house, which gives me a general idea of how the air is, but I felt like more granular data would make it easier to make decisions about how safe it would be to do things like go outside or crack open the windows. Towards that end, we purchased a PurpleAir sensor (which is back ordered, as you would expect) and plan on connecting it to the various public networks.

We also bought a Dyson fan/purifier. It was pretty expensive, but the included air quality sensor makes it seem pretty reasonable. We already had two air purifiers in the house and the air never felt bad in here. However, with an indoor sensor, we might have been able to more actively manage things like whether to open the windows (even a crack) at night since we would be able to tell if our purifiers were keeping up. Getting it has made me realize just how much I’m willing to pay for things that do their job well without being noisy (spoiler: a lot).

Going forward, wildfires like we have seen these past few years will keep happening. With climate change making these huge fires more likely, we need to be proactive. Native Americans have been using controlled burns for millennia as a tool of forest stewardship and wildfire prevention, we need to continue that tradition. Power companies that are unable/unwilling to maintain their transmission lines need to be broken up (if you have too many lines to maintain, sounds like maybe you shouldn’t be in charge of all of them), regulated, or replaced entirely (if capitalism isn’t able to handle electricity generation/transmission without killing us all, the government should do it).

New stuff around here

  • I wrote about how we need a practical cycling club and what it might look like. Because, you know, I really need another project.
  • I decided that while I like the idea of reviewing and recommending stuff, realistically I don’t actually enjoy the process of doing it. I’m removing the “Recommended” section of this site and replacing it with with the Subscribe page. I’ll be moving the recommendations that I’ve made in with my regular posts, so they will show up in your email/rss feed if you have subscribed. I do still plan on recommending things here, it just won’t be a focus of the site.
  • I’ve been continuing to edit “Passport Denied” (the followup to There Are No Words). It is going well, but will be a while before I have something that I’m ready to share with y’all.

Stuff I’ve been reading elsewhere

  • A new law allowing “safety stops” in Washington State goes into effect today! This means that people on bicycles can treat stop signs as yield signs. Practially, it won’t make much of a difference, since that was already most people on bikes acted (and in cars, for that matter), but it’s progress nonetheless.
  • HYPER-REALITY a short film about about an Augmented Reality dystopia. Although it was a bit stressful to watch, I still appreciated it and was impressed by its technical merits. Although I can’t really watch a feature-length movie based on good cinematography if it doesn’t have a compelling story, I feel differently about it if I’m only living in that world for 5-10 minutes.
  • L.E. Modesitt, Jr. on poetry in fiction. It’s interesting that he brings up rap as the only popular continuation of rhymed and metered poetry, which ties in with what Ibram X. Kendi has to say about the genre in How to be an Antiracist.
  • A look at why exercise is good for you, and why most people avoid it: https://harvardmagazine.com/2020/09/features-active-grandparenting
  • Most Pedestrian Infrastructure Is Really for Drivers. Basically, it is arguing that all the stuff we call “pedestrian infrastructure” wouldn’t be necessary if there weren’t cars on the road, so really it exists to allow cars to drive faster. I had never thought about it this way, but it’s definitely a valid viewpoint.
  • Robin Sloan on how to think about content. He uses the economics terms stock and flow to talk about whether that thing you’re posting is interesting but ephemeral (think Twitter) or more of a deep dive. Although I didn’t have the terminology, that’s kind of what I’ve been doing with these monthly posts, creating a steady drip of information, with my stories and projects forming the more substantive content. Of course, these posts are incredibly useful for me to track the ideas I come across, as well.
  • Another post by L. E. Modesitt, Jr. about how a low minimum wage equates to a subsidy for businesses paid for by individuals. Given that he is definitely more conservative than me, I find this notable.
  • It looks like Los Angeles is getting new streetlights and they look pretty neat. In particular I’m excited that they will have the capability to have sun sails attached, give the dearth of shade in that city. Combined with Garcetti’s plan to plant 90,000 trees I’m interested to see where that city is going (though I’m pretty sure I’ll never want to live there).
  • I don’t really have much to add to this, but it resonated with me and I want to share it. Baseball is not black enough.
  • I feel like I don’t have enough context (other than that the government’s actions around treaty rights are indefensible) to really make sense of this, but what I do understand of it is fascinating. We have to face Slade Gorton’s legacy, not bury it.
  • Although we often talk about greenhouse gasses and other types of air pollution that cars contribute to (apparently we even get a ton of air pollution from tires and brake pads), we rarely talk about just how bad noise is for us
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, which sucks. She leaves behind a legacy of empowerment and equality for women and many others. However, I hope that we can add to that by showing how broken the institution of the Supreme Court is. I don’t know if the solution is to have a larger court or to have a rotating bench of federal judges, but so long as the Supreme Court can be “won” or “lost”, it is not functioning as intended.
  • A short film about how Utrecht became the bicycle city it is today. I wish the video had been able to delve a bit more into the challenges they faced, but it was inspiring, nonetheless.
  • Public bathrooms suck, but this episode from 99% Invisible explains why they don’t have to and how designing public bathrooms for people with different needs makes them better for all of us. What’s really exciting about this is that it isn’t a “wouldn’t it be great if bathrooms were better, here are some ideas that can’t be done in the current regulatory environment” thing, but rather “here’s a better idea, and we already got it added to the International Building Code”. Now people just need to urge their localities to adopt that new code and start building these things.
  • Bust ‘Em All: Let’s De-Monopolize Tech, Telecoms AND Entertainment. Ar essay by Cory Doctorow about how we shouldn’t be choosing between different sets of monopolies, we should be choosing to not have monopolies.
  • Apparently this October is ‘National Pedestrian Safety Month’, where we tell pedestrians that it is their responsibility to not get hit by cars. Of course, this whole campaign could probably be replaced with a sign that reads “Remember pedestrians, we aren’t going to invest in infrastructure for you, so you’re on your own. Try not to die.”.

What I’m reading/listening to/watching/playing/whatever

  • I’m still reading How to be an Antiracist and Worm. I’ll finish the former this month and the latter . . . eventually. They are both excellent.
  • I’ve been enjoying the Aquabats new album Kooky Spooky quite a bit, it’s fun, light-hearted, and catchy.
  • I’m not sure why, but Bush’s album Sea of Memories has also been in heavy rotation. I definitely enjoy it, but I can’t quite put my finger on why that is so. Reading the reviews when I dig up a link, it appears that I’m in the minority on this one.
  • My video game time has been spent on Stardew Valley, an indie successor to the Harvest Moon series that manages to surpass the original in my book.
  • I haven’t been playing many board games (you know, pandemic and all), but I have been having a great time with Palm Island and Hisashi Hayashi’s MetroX (the Japanese version, because I like the aesthetic better). Both are excellent, but Palm Island feels a bit more like a game and MetroX feels more like a puzzle.
  • I overcame my dislike of Amazon to watch Upload. It was fun and had lots of heart. If you’re looking for a good half hour comedy and have Prime, this series is definitely worth a shot. I’m looking forward to the eventual season 2.