Inside Tom's Head - January 2021

08 Feb 2021

At the beginning of the month, it was an open question whether or not the United States would remain a democracy much longer (though I agree that there is a very strong case to be made that we are actually an oligarchy). Then, a week into 2021, Trump made a coup attempt. It appears that the coup failed in the short term but so long as our politics are dominated by just two parties (who don’t represent us particularly well, anyway) we will continue to see this sort of thing.

On a more optimistic note, I think that we have turned a corner. Even if having Trump gone only means that things are 1% less crazy (and that’s being pretty pessimistic), that’s 1% of our energy that we will spend evening waking hour stressing about it that we can direct towards other things. Even a marginal gain can have big benefits over time.

New Stuff Elsewhere

  • An interesting look at how we currently do public assistance. There’s possibly enough money in there for a guaranteed income, but at the very least, a good first step would be to switch current benefits over to a simple cash payment.
  • Is Fonio the Ancient Grain of the Future? I’m all for crop diversity, and this looks pretty cool.
  • I had never stopped to think about how credit card rebates actually work. Now I feel guilty about it, but I don’t know the solution.
  • Twitter is dying, apparently. Although I don’t really care about the future of the platform (it will be replaced), I found the discussion of the signs of decline for social media platforms to be really interesting.
  • Despite the ways in which the 1/6 coup attempt seem novel, it’s worth noting that it has happened before, and there are definite lessons from countries where coup attempts were allowed to repeatedly happen until they eventually succeeded. For the record, I’m not saying that we should crack down on civil liberties, but rather that going easy on the perpetrators because they were acting out of a sense of patriotism (though that is debatable) is not a good idea.
  • The legacy of vehicular cycling lives on, unfortunately. Although I understand frustration at having to slow down (I like to ride as fast as possible, too), it seems that rather than objecting to cycling infrastructure on the grounds that it encourages people who can’t ride as fast, we should be advocating for better infrastructure (wider protected lanes, bicycle highways, etc.).
  • Surprising no one (who has been paying attention, at least), police are far more likely to use violence against left-wing protestors than against their right-wing counterparts. In Olympia, photos of police at right wing events usually have an “I’ll be here with you right after I get off work” vibe rather than the “ready to throw down” vibe of police at left wing protests, even though the right-wing groups have a tendency to shoot people.
  • The average price of a new car topped $40,000 in 2020. For the average monthly payment ($581), I could buy a brand new, really nice, bicycle every 6 months, or just a nice bike every time it needed a tune-up.
  • As schools in Washington State start to reopen, the science is starting to say that kids play a role in the spread after all.
  • An interesting article in Logic magazine about how engineers don’t solve problems, just transform them. If you find the plight of Mexico City interesting, 99% Invisible had a good episode about it from a different angle.
  • As I mentioned last month, the research we did in 2020 will echo for generations. Although I’m skeptical of the idea that this may be the last pandemic we face, I do believe that it will be the last viral pandemic that we face unprepared.
  • It’s good that Amtrak is getting the Defiance Point Bypass up and running again. I’m still upset that Positive Train Control hasn’t been implemented everywhere, though. Then again, capitalism has a tendency to fight anything that would prioritize safety over profit, so no big surprise. Of course, the elephant in the room is why we don’t mandate a top speed for public and private vehicles, given that speed is one of the main determiners of injury in a crash and the average citizen shouldn’t ever need to go 110mph on the highway in their Toyota.
  • We get most of our groceries through Thrive and Safeway these days. In general, we have had much better luck with Safeway than with stores that use Instacart (in our area, Safeway uses employees for grocery delivery), but it looks like Instacart is also anti-union, if you needed another reason to avoid them.
  • It looks like rural broadband is one of the issues that could fracture the political parties, since republicans tend to be anti-infrastructure (except highways?) but rural voters desperately need better internet connection that the monopolies will likely never provide, regardless of how much money we give them to do it.
  • We love our election induction stove, and yet I keep on talking to people lusting after gas ranges. Well, it turns out that gas appliances are a bad idea.
  • A really interesting interview with Devin Michelle Bunten on the Densely Speaking podcast about her paper where she looked at the societal costs of parking. Although this might sound like a boring topic, they went about the research in an interesting way, showing (some of) the societal costs of free parking by looking at how livable a city might be without cars. Densely Speaking is becoming one of my favorite podcasts. It tends towards the wonky side of things (although to be fair, the title gives you a good idea of what you’re in for), and I appreciate the amount of research that the hosts put into their topics.
  • Boise is going to start testing self-driving scooters. The basic idea is that they work like current scooters, but are able to park themselves or to be summoned. This is exactly the sort of autonomous vehicle we should be thinking about, since it seems unlikely that a 50 pound scooter traveling without a passenger at 5mph will be responsible for many fatalities.
  • The ongoing legacy of Initiative 456 and why we should pass HB 1172. I don’t really have a lot to add to this, but I’m all for finding and removing racist laws that are still on the books.


  • I watched Wolfwalkers with my family. It was amazing, and I’m really glad to see that the studio behind it, Cartoon Saloon, looks like it will continue on its current path.
  • I started reading Bicycle/Race by Adonis E. Lugo, PhD - “Stuff wasn’t what made me a person, although without inheriting money from the family property I might not have had the breathing room to figure that out.”
  • I read Angel of Crows by Katherine Addison (author of The Goblin Emperor, one of my favorite books). This book was very different from Goblin Emperor, but excellent in its own way. I loved what Addison does with the Sherlock story, and I really appreciate how this book was just flat-out fun but also didn’t shy away from saying important stuff. Highly recommended.
  • I continue to play a RingFit Adventure most days. I’m really enjoying it, even when it’s hard.