January was a bit of a mixed bag and I’m struggling to sum it all up. I turned 40, but it doesn’t feel like a big deal since I’ve been rounding up to 40 when I talked about my age for a few years now. I built a small addition to our climbing wall (I’ve been referring to it as Phase 2.5) which doesn’t add a whole lot of surface area but adds lots of potential for interesting boulder problems. The new job continues to go well. My partner continues to find new amazing vegan food to make, most recently vegan gyro/schwarma meat. I truly lead a charmed existence.
I’m still working on a couple of topical posts, but have been focusing more on getting enough sleep and exercise and less on being productive in my free time. I’m honestly not sure if I’ll finish any of them up in time to post in February, but we’ll see.
This article about microgrids is 4 years old, but it is still pretty exciting. Imagine if your neighborhood was set up as a microgrid and could go into island mode in the case of a power outage? Of course, right now that would mean lots of generators (it seems like most houses on my street have one, since we lose power with relative frequency), which have their own problems, but what if 50+% of houses had solar panels and/or batteries and the neighborhood could run at something like 50% capacity during an outage (enough to keep fridges, lights, and wells running)?
On the Hidden Brain podcast, William B Irvine talks about approaching difficult situations as tests and talking about how COVID-19 is in some sense a huge test, where we are suddenly deprived of the things which we took for granted (spending time with friends and family, movie theaters, haircuts, etc.). Personally, that framework doesn’t do much for me (I prefer the idea of challenges that provide the opportunity for growth), but it did get me thinking. In this lens are the people who are engaging in behavior that prolongs the pandemic failing a test? I don’t like that line of thought, it leads towards being judgemental (and I do entirely too much of that on my own, thank you very much). Rather, I think that it shows the value of having a Stoic practice before a crisis. Granted, there are definitely people who just don’t care, but how many people are engaging in risky behavior because they just have very little experience with being deprived of things? Would spending time thinking about how one day we will lose the things that we value (we will each of us die, after all) help us to make better decisions? I don’t know, but I doubt it would hurt.
Some insightful observations about how suburbs feel unsafe. Reading this made me think of an experience I had taking a cruise to South America. When you arrive in port, you are always warned to avoid the neighborhoods between the port and wherever it is you want to go, since they are dangerous. We always just walked through them. On our way back to the ship after a day in Montevideo, I stepped in a hole in the sidewalk and rolled over my ankle badly enough that it started bruising almost immediately. Imagine my surprise when we were immediately surrounded by 4-5 people from all walks of life, asking if I was okay, if I wanted them to call a taxi, or if I needed to go to the hospital. Again, this was in the bad neighborhood. I can’t imagine the same thing happening in many parts of the United States, and I think that a lot of it has to do with the fact that often no one is around, since they are all in their cars. We have abandoned any place that is not a “destination”, creating islands of activity surrounded by seas of non-places.
While I generally think that there are some serious downsides to short term rentals, this story about putting half of a duplex on Airbnb to finance fixing up the whole building demonstrates a good use of the system. Of course, if they had just been able to get a traditional loan in the first place, that would be ideal (they said that banks weren’t interested in that sort of loan, but I don’t feel confident that I have the full picture of the situation).
Generally, I don’t see us adressing climate change by individually switching to vegetarian or vegan diets is going to make much of a dent in climate change (though it definitely can in aggregate), but schools in the US are one of the biggest food distribution systems in the country, and small changes there could have large impacts. A little digging revealed this article about how the Oakland Unified School District was able to serve healthier meals with a lower climate impact for less money by reducing the amount of meat it served. This is really cool because it provides a good counter example to the argument that it is too expensive to serve healthy food (which is a weird distortion anyway, since it takes more vegetable matter to make meat or dairy than if you just ate vegetables). The other thing the article mentions is that they were able to source better meat when they did serve, rather than needing to puchase the cheapest stuff available. Related, (this is from February, I know, but I’m putting it here anyway) a new report concludes that eliminating meat and dairy entirely over the next 15 years would “pause the growth of greenhouse gasses for 30 years”. I’m not advocating complete elimination of meat and dairy for everyone (and doing so in 15 years seems highly unlikely), but I do believe that moving in that direction would have a large environmental benefit.
Sightline had an article about the relationship between parking lots and urban heat islands. Urban parking lots often don’t make any sense. Sure, some get used frequently, but once you get even a little bit outside of downtown (as in a couple of blocks here in Olympia), you see parking lots that are never used beyond about 25% capacity. In this scenario, everyone loses: the business pays to maintain infrastructure that they don’t need, it prevents density that would bring more foot traffic, we are in the middle of a housing crisis so it could definitely be better used, and it makes the surrounding area more livable. Of course, I understand that a lot of these are due to mandatory minimums in the code, but it seems like there would be more pressure to remove them than we are seeing. Heck, even if you just tear them up, recycle the asphalt, and plant grass, we would be better off.
In talking about the game John Company with a friend, it occurred to me that perhaps I was imagining it’s anti-colonialism message, so I did some digging. It turns out that I wasn’t imagining it, John Company is intended as a critique of colonialism. I really appreciate this, since games so often use colonialism as a “neutral” setting without much introspection.
An interview with Lee Drutman on how to depolarize politics in the US. Drutman’s book, Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop, was one of the best political books I’ve read in a long time and this interview is worth a read. I have some minor disagreements with his conception of how change could happen, namely that I don’t think that it will necessarily take action on a national scale to break the two party system. In our current system, the people with the most power are the moderates, just see how easily Manchin and Sinema have overruled the other 48 Democratic senators. The problem with moderates is that their position is tenuous in an era of increasing polarization. However, with something like Ranked Choice Voting that encourages politicians to build the broadest base rather than appealing to the extremes, being a moderate is much easier and allows a politician to break from the party line more easily. Now that Alaska’s Ranked Choice initiative has weathered its legal challenge, it will be interesting to see how it affects the balance of power in Washington (DC).
Some board game humor, though honestly this applies to any situation where there is a big differential in engagement among participants.
Over the past few months, I’ve been trying to get to where I’m spending less time reading (and reacting) to news about Covid. To that end, I pay attention to the numbers that my county puts out, general local news, and this (free) newsletter by an epidemiologist. I wish that I had found it sooner in the pandemic.
I enjoyed Encanto, but it felt like it was missing something, like the story was on rails with the characters just going along for the ride.
The second Skyward novella, Redawn, was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed seeing the situation from a non-human perspective, and the series continues to have interesting things to say about violence, force, and diplomacy.
I read the second Dragon Prince novelization, Book 2: Sky. It continues to be fun, and I really appreciate how it expands the world since it is written by the creators.
Somewhere along the line after reading The Martian, I had heard that Weir’s second book, Artemis, was just ‘meh’. Reading Project Hail Mary has turned me from a Martian fan into an Andy Weir fan, and now I plan on going back to read Artemis. This book is much more of a traditional science fiction story, but with the hard science that characterized The Martian. I hope that Weir influences the genre away from the special protagonist and towards the ‘competent man’ archetype (though I’d prefer it to evolve to a competent person archetype) that was mentioned in the article I linked above about Batman. I just wish that Weir’s audiobooks weren’t Audible exlcusives.