Inside Tom's Head - October 2020

01 Nov 2020

Well, I was hoping that I could spend some time talking about the election, but I also want to get this written and posted today, so it looks like that will have to wait for another post.

Coronavirus led to what felt like a subdued October for me. We didn’t go out to the pumpkin patch and we didn’t go trick-or-treating. However, I continue to be impressed by my kid’s resilience in the face of the pandemic. He misses his friends, but accepts things as they are. If we could get all of the adults to just handle this on the level of an eight-year-old, wearing masks and limiting contact, we probably wouldn’t be seeing record case numbers every week.

There continue to be bright spots in all of this, however. We watched the first episode of the new season of The Mandalorian with some friends using the GroupWatch feature on Disney+. The service works pretty well, synchronizing playback is smooth, but backchannel communication is severely lacking. I can understand not wanting to do chat, since it is a family-friendly service, but somehow I feel that expressing myself with six emojis (there isn’t even a “surprised” emoji) is kind of weak. What I really liked, though, was watching it together and then doing a video chat to talk about it afterwards, which mimics one of the better parts of 90’s TV, where everyone was watching the same thing at the same time.

New Stuff Around Here

  • I wrote my thoughts on I-976 not making it through the courts.
  • I finished my most recent editing pass of “Passport Denied”, the followup to There Are No Words. I’ve been mulling this stuff over for about 6 years now and have figured out some of the issues that I had with the story when I first wrote it. The story has good bones (I think), but there’s a lot to cut. There’s also a lot that needs to be added. First, I need to integrate all of the blue ink that I put on the draft with the digital version, which will be slow going unless I figure out a better process (gDocs doesn’t run well on huge documents on my old chromebook).
  • I’ve started writing a post about digital animism, which is an idea that probably makes no sense without context but which I’m excited about.
  • I’ve also started a post about why bike maintenance sucks (even if you have an awesome mechanic) and how to make it better.

New Stuff Elsewhere

  • I recently started listening to the Ezra Klein podcast from Vox, and it is quickly becoming one of my favorites. The first episode that I listened to was about decarbonizing America and was really interesting. I imagine I’ll be linking more in the future.
  • A brief history of how grassy lawns exist to prove you’re not a peasant and how we should probably let that status symbol go the way of the fur coat (it looks like mink farms might be problematic in a new way, too).
  • I watched Kiss the Ground on Netflix, which was one of the more hopeful and feasible-sounding plans around climate change that I’ve seen so far. It reminded me of The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka. It also led me to seach for stuff about the future of agriculture, which led me to this article about how our agriculture system is heading towards catastrophic, yet preventable, decline.
  • I was generally aware of the issues around bicycles and race, but this interview with Adonia Lugo definitely had a lot of interesting stuff in it. I’ll make sure to post about it when I get around to reading the book.
  • Three charts that illustrate just how badly the US is doing on road safety compared to Europe. The short version is that we made some progress but that between giant vehicles and terrible street design (among other things) pedestrian and cyclist fatalities have been trending back up.
  • It seems like maybe we should tax the hell out of non-recycled plastic… Apparently big oil lied to us about how much plastic would be recycled (shocking, I know).
  • The documentary Gather sounds fascinating. I found the discussion with the filmmaker (in the linked article) about the process of making a documentary about a group that has long been poorly served by documentarians to be particularly interesting.
  • We should always try to design in such a way that the environment encourages and reinforces good decisions. Any time we have an environment that encourages one type of behavior but where we expect a different sort of behavior, we are seeing ourselves up to fail. The 94% Error: We Need to Understand the True Cause of Crashes
  • I remember hearing about the Land Institute trying to create a perennial cereal grain (a serial grain… I’ll see myself out now) a while back but hadn’t been keeping up with it. Well, it turns out they’ve been making progress! This could be a huge boon to the environment.
  • More ways in which cars make everything worse. Air Pollution Particles in Young Brains Linked to Alzheimers Damage. Also, apparently between emissions and lack of in-person interaction, cars are making us more depressed, even if we don’t drive.
  • Some good stuff about how car-free transportation could be advertised. In particular, I liked the bit about changing the negative stereotypes about adults who ride bikes. It makes me want to do something about that casual bicycle club I was talking about a while ago.
  • Everywhere basic income has been tried, in one map. UBI, or something like it, will probably continue to look outlandish, right up to the point that it looks inevitable.
  • An interesting TED talk about how we can design maps (really, navigation algorithms) to help us find the best (calmest, quietest, prettiest, etc.) way to get from here to there rather than just the fastest.
  • I don’t agree with everything that Cringely says about the 2020-2021 academic year, but what he’s saying is worth thinking about.
  • An episode of the How To Save A Planet podcast about traditional forestry practices that can prevent or ameliorate wildfires (among other things).
  • Although electrifying our fleet of vehicles is a good step towards addressing climate change, it would be more effective to rethink transportation entirely. Given that a lot of the emissions from a vehicle happen during the manufacturing process, I’d feel a lot better about EVs if we were focusing on things like the ElectraMeccanica Solo rather than the electric Hummer (seriously, WTF?). When I showed the Solo to my partner, her response was “I don’t think that I’d feel safe driving that to work surrounded by huge trucks” and I can’t help but to agree. Until the US stops subsidizing huge vehicles (by exempting them from fuel efficiency standards, for example), reasonably-sized vehicles don’t really stand much of a chance.
  • With more smart appliances, daylight saving time changes now feel like my house is gaslighting me. That being said, we should get rid of it.

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

  • I’m still gradually working my way through Worm, which is still good.
  • I’m currently listening to A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine, which is quite good so far.
  • I read Dragon Pearl to my family last month, and it was excellent. I really enjoyed the combination of Korean folklore with science fiction (in a way that I didn’t for Lee’s other works that I’ve read), especially the idea of spaceships having meridians. Notably, the book also handled non-binary gender issues quite well (though I could be totally off on that count, being a straight cis guy). I hope it gets a sequel.
  • Nothing has really separated itself out for me musically, lots of Metric, lots of Nine Inch Nails, lots of Garbage, nothing terribly surprising about that.
  • I started playng through My City with my family. I’m enjoying it a lot so far, but I worry that they aren’t enjoying it as much, since I have won both games by wide margins. It is a legacy game (you play with the same people each time and the game changes a little each time depending on the results), though, so I’m thinking that the catch-up mechanisims should start hitting me pretty hard. If the game continues to be fun, it may be the perfect thing for the pandemic. If that’s the case, I’ll write a post about it.
  • I have been listening to a lot of podcasts. In particular I’ve been enjoying the Ezra Klein Show, How to Save a Planet, and season 2 of Against the Rules by Michael Lewis.
  • I watched Ted Lasso, which was somehow amazing. Do yourself a favor and watch the trailer, then watch the show. It’s a 30-minute comedy series with a ton of heart that is exactly what we need for 2020. Even mentioning it makes me want to watch it again.
  • We have started playing MarioKart on the weekends, which has been a ton of fun, though my partner has started winning more and more, which is concerning.