flwyd: (Vigelandsparken circle man)
2017-08-20 11:59 am
Entry tags:

Directions of Manhood

Discussing coming of age rites, I noted that they should be tailored to the kids involved. “Some boys need to learn how to man up. Other boys need to learn how to man down.”
flwyd: (raven temple of moon)
2017-07-26 12:05 am
Entry tags:

Snakes Worth Avoiding

The first time I saw a coiled rattlesnake "DONT TREAD ON ME" bumper sticker I was 13 or 14. At the time, I assumed it was conveying advice to hikers and horseback riders: be cognizant of the wildlife around you lest you surprise a rattlesnake. It had not occurred to me that the owner of the vehicle might identify with the snake, not the person in danger of getting bit.

When I later learned that the flag was associated with a more libertarian worldview than a careful-outdoor-recreation sentiment, I had assumed that it was a relatively recent invention. It turns out the flag actually dates back to the American revolution. There's some interesting history in Wikipedia's First Navy Jack article and some less-well-cited information on the Gadsden flag article. The latter has this interesting tidbit:
As the American colonies came to identify more with their own communities and the concept of liberty, rather than as vassals of the British empire, icons that were unique to the Americas became increasingly popular. The rattlesnake, like the bald eagle and American Indian, came to symbolize American ideals and society. … Benjamin Franklin published an essay in the Pennsylvania Journal under the pseudonym American Guesser in which he suggested that the rattlesnake was a good symbol for the American spirit: I recollected that her eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal, and that she has no eye-lids—She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance.—She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage.—As if anxious to prevent all pretensions of quarreling with her, the weapons with which nature has furnished her, she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those who are unacquainted with her, she appears to be a most defenseless animal; and even when those weapons are shown and extended for her defense, they appear weak and contemptible; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal:—Conscious of this, she never wounds till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of stepping on her.—Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America?

This leads me to imagine a mashup flag of Ben Franklin's choices national mascots, the turkey and the rattlesnake, perched on a cactus à la the Mexican coat of arms. I'm also reminded of a Gadsden flag parody a friend told me about with an ouroboros on a yellow background with muffled words at the bottom. I regret that I have not been able to find this via Google Image Search.

Wikipedia also notes As the American Revolution grew, the snake began to see more use as a symbol of the colonies. In 1774, Paul Revere added Franklin's iconic cartoon to the nameplate of his paper, the Massachusetts Spy, depicted there as fighting a British dragon. The rattlesnake as a characteristic American dragon is an interesting idea to play with, particularly as an ally of the people (like an east Asian dragon) rather than as a foe to be conquered (like a typical European dragon).

The snake may also be an interesting symbolic way to segment the American right wing. The liberty and independence faction celebrates the rattlesnake as a mascot. The Christian traditionalist faction distrusts snakes generally, due to their association with temptation in the Garden of Eden.

I'm also glad to see that empowered women have thought of not treading on Medusa and put it on shirts and tote bags.
flwyd: (Akershus Castle cobblestones)
2017-07-14 12:38 am

Letter to My Senators: Net Neutrality and Title II

I'm a day late for the Day of Action, but you've still got until the end of the weekend to submit comments to the FCC. See FightForTheFuture.org for more information.

Senator Gardner,

Thank you for your comments today mourning the passing of Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo. He stood up in support of free speech and was punished by having his communications blocked and censored. I am writing you with an American concern similar to Mr. Liu’s: the right of people to freely communicate without interference from powerful interests.
Senator Bennet,

Thank you for your tweet yesterday in support of #NetNeutrality. This is an issue with major implications for American’s rights to free speech and assembly and their ability to access important information.


The FCC, under Commissioner Pai, has proposed changing the classification of internet service providers (ISPs) so that they are no longer considered telecommunication services and not covered by Title II of the Communications Act. This would have significant negative consequences for Coloradans who use the Internet, which is to say almost all of us.

The principle of common carriage is crucial to fostering an entrepreneurial economy. It has served America well from telecommunications to trucking to oil pipelines to horse-and-carriage transportation companies in the 13 colonies. All of the Internet services that we take for granted—from eBay to Google to Netflix to Facebook—were able to start as a small business and grow to serve hundreds of millions of people because they had equal access to the networks which make up the Internet. Without Title II classifications, ISPs would be allowed to unfairly promote their own Internet and media businesses by foisting discriminatory prices on competitors. In the end consumers would lose, paying more for worse service.

Like the free flow of information, the free market is crucial to the success of the Internet. Unfortunately, ISPs do not operate in a free market and are thus able to abuse their monopolistic position. In many parts of Europe and Asia, citizens have a choice of half a dozen or more ISPs, all competing to provide the best service at the lowest cost. In such an environment, discriminatory traffic management would be disincentivized by the forces of competition. But most Coloradans have just one or two ISPs available. Title II classification is therefore essential for ensuring that we have access to quality communication and content on the Internet. Please join me and over a million and a half Americans this week in contacting FCC Commissioner Pai and tell him you support Title II classification of ISPs and ask him to work to support net neutrality.

Additionally, I urge you to work with the subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet to find a way to introduce more competition to the ISP market so that Coloradans have a meaningful choice for Internet access. This might take many forms, from reducing regulations (while keeping Title II protections) for ISPs to supporting the nearly 100 Colorado communities pursuing municipal broadband. Internet access has quickly become a crucial foundation for participating in modern America and it is of vital importance that Americans have meaningful choice in both how we access the Internet and what sites we can visit.

Thank you for your hard work and dedication in service to America,
Trevor Stone
Software Engineer
Boulder, CO, 80304

Fortunately, my congressman doesn't need any encouraging to support net neutrality. So I sent him a thank you note.
Rep. Polis,

Thank you so much for your support, this week and for the last several years, for Net Neutrality and an open Internet. The first time I visited your website was during the SOPA/PIPA protests of early 2012. Seeking to understand your position on Internet regulation so that I could properly craft a letter in opposition to SOPA, I was immensely gratified to learn that not only did you oppose the bill, you had introduced a strong counter proposal.

As a software engineer and a user of the Internet for nearly 25 years, I am proud that my member of Congress is one of the strongest voices in Washington in support of a free and fair Internet. Please keep up this important fight.

Sincerely,
Trevor Stone
777 Juniper Ave
Boulder, CO 80304
flwyd: (asia face of the earth relief)
2017-07-09 11:14 pm
Entry tags:

Earth's Energy at Night

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a nice Earth at Night image from 2012. Click to see the hi-res version:
Earth at Night Suomi NPP 2012

I had an Earth at Night poster in my dorm room nearly 20 years ago. Some notable areas that stand out now:

  • Large oil and gas installations are very prominent, and were fairly absent in the late '90s version of the map. There are lots of very bright lights in…
    • The middle of the Persian Gulf
    • The Bakken formation in North Dakota and the Alberta tar sands
    • Bazhenov formation near the Ob river in Siberia
    • Off the coast of the Niger and Congo deltas
    • To a lesser extent, the coasts of northern Alaska, Louisianna, and Venezuela, and the middle of the Caspian Sea
    • I'm not sure what's up with the bright area the shape of Vermont to the south of Korea and west of Japan. It looks further north than the maps I see when I search [East China Sea oil fields]. Maybe it, the dots between Hainan and Vietnam, like the lines between Argentina and the Falkland Islands, signals night fishing
    • The area around Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan is brighter than I expected, too
  • The position of North Korea are very prominence, due to the distinct lack of lights compared to their neighbors
  • Myanmar shows significantly more light than North Korea, suggesting that development there is expanding
  • The Empty Quarter (of Arabia) really is empty
  • Moscow is a lovely 8-pointed star as people have filled in along the arterial highways
  • Metro Bangkok (famous for having the worst traffic in the world) is larger than I'd expected
  • The whole Straight of Malaca is lit up. I'm not sure if that's development on the shore or cargo ships.
  • The brightness of the lower Nile and its delta are always striking. I suspect this may be in part due to the presence of the Aswan dams generating power, not just the population density
  • Israel is somewhat brighter than its neighbors, though western Jordan is fairly solid
  • Europe has several areas that are basically solid light, with big cities only slightly brighter while America has very prominent metropolises with more subdued dots (in the east) and open space (in the west)
  • Speaking of the American east–west divide, there's almost a vertical line from Winnipeg do the mouth of the Rio Grande separating the "plenty of people" part of the country from the "a few metropolitan oases until you get to the Pacific coast" part of the country
  • Though a little less distinct, there's a ring around much of the Tibetan Plateau
  • The Caspian coast of Iran is a more populated area than many folks realize
  • Many folks would also be surprised by the brightness of Java, though as the most populous island in the world it should be expected
  • Taiwan has an interesting western crescent of light
  • Puerto Rico is almost as bright as the Florida coast
  • McMurdo Station doesn't make enough light to show up, but Antarctica has a high albedo, even at night
  • Not only are there very few lights in the Congo rainforest, it also reflects less moonlight than the deserts to its north, south, and east. The Amazon has a similar effect.
  • If you're wondering what's up with West Australia, the images were taken when bush fires were burning

flwyd: (red succulent)
2017-07-03 11:53 pm
Entry tags:

Spruce Maple Ginger Ale

A friend who's interested in home brewing came over today to help me bottle and then brew.

We started by bottling the rhubarb melomel which I started during last year's Independence Day long weekend. I then started losing body mass and caloric intake, making it hard to get up the energy to clean the whole kitchen and bottle that batch of mead. The nice perk of the year-long fermentation process is that I was able to add several stalks worth of fresh rhubarb to the carboy this spring to help bring out the rhubarb flavor. For whatever reason, the final product tastes odd: like a sour rhubarb with a medium-sweet honey flavor and a too-fusile alcohol kick. I'm hoping that it mellows over a couple years in the bottles.

After taking a break for lunch, we proceeded to brew the spruce beer concoction that I've been wanting to do for a while. Bottling and then brewing makes for a long day, but it saves on having to clean the whole kitchen and dining room table twice, and all the gear is already hand and out of the box.

My original plan was to feature spruce needles (in place of hops), a medium liquid malt, ginger, and a pound of honey. When I went to the grocery store for honey and ginger I spotted some maple syrup and realized that that might compliment the spruce as something of a kindred tree spirit sugar. Maple syrup is one of the most expensive sugars you can put in a beer: a quart cost me as much as all the stuff I got at the homebrew store. I chose sparkling amber liquid malt extract for the main fermentable, but the dispenser was really slow (maybe almost out), so I gave up after I got 3 lbs. I rounded out the sugars with 2 lbs of crystal malt grain&emdash;half 40°, half 120°. I also picked up some dried bitter orange peel (to compliment the citrus taste of the needles) and Lallemand Nottingham ale yeast. The clerk started pondering about other possible yeasts and I opined that I had plenty of ways to mess this brew up; choosing a less-than-optimal yeast was not going to be the key factor.

I clipped a loose mason jar worth of fresh blue spruce tips from the tree in our yard. This turned out to be not nearly enough: the spruce flavor is almost undetectable in the wort, even after adding another 50-75% of needs clipped after sampling the brew in progress. Maybe I'll "dry hop" with needles during secondary, or make a needle tea and add it at bottling time.

Nonetheless, the wort is pretty tasty. The malt flavor is very subtle and the ginger is prominent but not intense. The maple syrup doesn't seem to contribute a lot of flavor, but I think it's helping be sweet without strongly malty. Initial reading is about 5% potential alcohol. Like 2015's ginger juniper, folks who don't care for beer may really enjoy this.

ETA: The yeast are really digging this beer. Less than four hours after mixing them in, bubbles are emerging through the airlock in force.
flwyd: (earth eyes south america face)
2017-06-26 12:12 am
Entry tags:

Letter to My Senators: In Support of Carbon Fee & Dividend

(slightly different wording based on existing positions)

Senator Gardner,

Thank you for your recent op-ed in the Coloradoan arguing that science should be nonpartisan. Thanks also for your work to ensure that Colorado’s leading research institutions like NIST, NOAA, NCAR, and NREL receive sufficient funding to further understand our complex and dynamic world. For over 50 years, Colorado researchers have been instrumental in understanding the Earth’s weather and climate.

I am writing in support of Citizens' Climate Lobby, a nationwide nonpartisan group committed to fair, effective, and sustainable climate change solutions. Earlier this month, 1000 Americans, including 35 Coloradans, traveled to Washington and met with representatives and senators from across the country. CCL is building bipartisan support for a carbon fee and dividend proposal. This proposal would help relieve Americans from the challenges faced by climate change while accelerating American businesses focused on clean energy, all without increasing the size of government or putting American exports at risk.

The last two decades have seen remarkable changes in temperatures and climate, contributing to bigger heat waves and more frequent natural disasters. I experienced the changing climate first hand during the 2013 Boulder floods. When I woke up on September 12th, the thousand-year flood had turned the canyon road to my house into a roaring river. While I was fortunate and avoided significant loss, my family’s lives were disrupted for several months and several friends were much harder hit. Without systemic action to address the rapidly warming atmosphere, this kind of disaster will become more common, straining the ability of first responders and relief organizations to help those impacted.

Energy lies at the core of any economy, and fossil fuels have long played a key role in the American economy. We now know that carbon dioxide emissions are a major contributor to climate change. It is therefore crucial that we transition to a lower-carbon energy mix. The most efficient way to make this transition is to put a price on carbon emissions so that the costs of fossil fuels are no longer externalities. To avoid sudden disruption to the American economy, CCL’s proposal begins with a modest $15/ton fee, rising predictably every year. The money collected will be rebated equally to all Americans. This dividend will give citizens and businesses the opportunity to respond to market changes and to invest in transitioning to a affordable clean energy solutions. These investments in turn will create new jobs and help keep America competitive in global energy technology. Over the course of a generation, we can make the transition to a resilient low-emission economy.

Although President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Accords, it is still crucial for America to take action on climate change. CCL’s proposal would help America take the lead in clean energy while boosting our economy and creating jobs. The proposal includes a border adjustment to ensure that American exporters remain competitive. This will also incentivize our trading partners to implement their own national carbon fee, leading to a global decline in carbon emissions without the need for complex multinational treaties. A substantially similar proposal was put forth by James Baker, George Shultz, and the Climate Leadership Council. It has received support from many leading organizations and individuals including Larry Summers, Stephen Hawking, ExxonMobil, and The Nature Conservancy (https://www.clcouncil.org/founding-members/).

Sincerely,
Trevor Stone
Boulder, CO 80304


Senator Bennet,

Thank you for speaking out on the Senate floor in support of climate science. Thanks as well for publicly questioning President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Although the U.S. is no longer part of that international process, we can still work as a nation to reduce carbon emissions, grow the American economy, and build resilient communities.

I am writing in support of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a nationwide nonpartisan group committed to fair, effective, and sustainable climate change solutions. Earlier this month, 1000 Americans, including 35 Coloradans, traveled to Washington and met with representatives and senators from across the country. CCL is building bipartisan support for a carbon fee and dividend proposal. This proposal would help relieve Americans from the challenges faced by climate change while accelerating American businesses focused on clean energy, all without increasing the size of government or putting American exports at risk.

The last two decades have seen remarkable changes in temperatures and climate, contributing to bigger heat waves and more frequent natural disasters. I experienced the changing climate first hand during the 2013 Boulder floods. When I woke up on September 12th, the thousand-year flood had turned the canyon road to my house into a roaring river. While I was fortunate and avoided significant loss, my family’s lives were disrupted for several months and several friends were much harder hit. Without systemic action to address the rapidly warming atmosphere, this kind of disaster will become more common, straining the ability of first responders and relief organizations to help those impacted.

Energy lies at the core of any economy, and fossil fuels have long played a key role in the American economy. We now know that carbon dioxide emissions are a major contributor to climate change. It is therefore crucial that we transition to a lower-carbon energy mix. The most efficient way to make this transition is to put a price on carbon emissions so that the costs of fossil fuels are no longer externalities. To avoid sudden disruption to the American economy, CCL’s proposal begins with a modest $15/ton fee, rising predictably every year. The money collected will be rebated equally to all Americans. This dividend will give citizens and businesses the opportunity to respond to market changes and to invest in transitioning to a affordable clean energy solutions. These investments in turn will create new jobs and help keep America competitive in global energy technology. Over the course of a generation, we can make the transition to a resilient low-emission economy.

Bipartisan support for climate change legislation is growing in Congress, and I urge you to help bring it about. Please also ensure that any climate legislation passed by the Senate follows the fee and dividend model. Not only will the dividend help offset higher energy prices for struggling citizens, the revenue neutrality is crucial for gaining Republican support. Both climate change and renewable energy affect everyone, so it’s important that the bill is supported by leaders and voters across the political spectrum.

Sincerely,
Trevor Stone
Boulder, CO 80304
flwyd: (red succulent)
2017-06-24 11:53 pm

Agriculture as a Multi-variable Optimization Problem

I love the debate that I get into occasionally… They say, "You know the way you farm won't feed the world versus the way we farm. We're feeding the world," and I love it when they say that, because they say, "You just can't produce enough."

… I say, "Okay, let's have that debate, but before we have that debate, I want us to both stipulate that neither farming system will feed an endlessly increasing population." The Earth has got a carrying capacity, and once you get beyond that carrying capacity, neither one of them is going to feed the world.

And most of them will stipulate that… And I say, "Okay, well I'll go ahead then and capitulate right up front that if we're going to run out of acres first, you win. You can feed way more people than I can if acres are the only limiting factor. If we get unlimited water, unlimited petrol fuel, unlimited antibiotics that don't create pathogen-resistance unlimited fertilizer resources you win.

"But now if the limiting factor becomes water, I'm probably going to win, because I don't use as much water as you do. If the limiting factor becomes petrol fuel, I win, because I don't use as much of it as you do. And if the limiting factors become phosphates and potash and these other depleting resources, I win, because I don't use as much as you. And antibiotics and pesticides, and so on. I win just about any way we do it other than acreage."
— Will Harris of White Oak Pastures on industrial versus sustainable agriculture, quoted in Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating food systems for a changing climate by Laura Lengnick

Well put. It's something of an engineering approach to food.
flwyd: (transparent ribbon for government accoun)
2017-06-17 05:52 pm

Letter to My Senator: Republican Health Care Plan

According to reports, Colorado's Cory Gardner is one of thirteen Republicans drafting a Senate version of the House's rush job American Health Care Act. Observers expect Senate leaders to try to ram this bill through before the July 4th recess, which doesn't give Americans much time to comment on the substance of the measure. This week is therefore your opportunity to talk to your Senators about the House bill and your feelings about health care in general. This BoingBoing post provides links to useful resources, including contact information for health care staffers for all Republican senators. Interestingly, 28 of 52 health care staffers have female-sounding names, with two or three ambiguous first names while only 5 Republican senators are women.

Senator Gardner,

Thank you for your work in support of an effective Veterans Administration, ensuring that Americans who have served their country can receive a high quality of care. I am writing because I have read news reports that you are among a group of senators developing a health care bill based on the one recently passed by the House. I have also read that Republican leaders hope to pass the Senate bill before the July 4th recess. I have concerns about both the process and the rumored substance of this bill.

America’s health care system needs improvement. Americans spend more on health care per capita than any other country, yet our life expectancy and other quality of life measures trail many of our peers in the G20 (https://ourworldindata.org/the-link-between-life-expectancy-and-health-spending-us-focus). This imbalance puts America at a competitive disadvantage. Higher health care costs lead to less discretionary spending, weakening domestic demand for American products and services. Worse overall health leads American workers to be less productive as they must take time away to care for their own health or for sick family members. The imbalance between coverage offered in the group market and individual market also makes it harder for entrepreneurial Americans to leave a large employer and start a new business. By increasing access to care and reducing its overall cost, America can become stronger, more productive and innovative, and more resilient as a nation.

The message that the House sent with the AHCA was that insurance premium costs are the biggest challenge facing the American health system. Premium costs are an important issue, but they pale in comparison to both the overall cost of care and the ability of many Americans to access quality care at all. Many of the premium savings offered by the AHCA are driven by changes which allow insurers to offer less coverage or to offer cheaper policies to younger and healthier people while older and at-risk Americans’ premiums will rise. These changes will not bring about a healthier or more resilient America. Rather, they will lead us to abandon the Americans who need help the most: the CBO estimates that the AHCA would cause 23 million Americans and 280,000 Coloradans to lose health coverage by 2026 (https://www.cbo.gov/publication/52752 and http://acasignups.net/ahca-coverage-loss).

2016 was a challenging year for my wife and I, navigating several medical crises. We were able to survive the financial aspect not because of low premiums or our ability to save about $2000 through a HSA but because of a reasonable out-of-pocket maximum and because in many cases our insurance-negotiated rates were half of the provider-billed amounts. My biggest worry as I faced months of illness was that I would lose my job and therefore my insurance. Under the AHCA plan and with my newly discovered pre-existing condition, I worry that if I lose my job that the high cost of American health care would lead to either bankruptcy or death. This is a prospect that Americans need not face: our nation is strong and innovative enough that we can find a way to ensure that every citizen can receive quality health care at a reasonable cost.

Finally, I am concerned that you and other Republican senators are developing this bill in private and are hurrying to pass it before the American people can come to understand the proposal and provide our input. America’s health care system needs significant improvements, but the situation is not so urgent that we cannot take six months to have a national conversation about how we can best ensure that Americans have access to the care we need. The United States Senate has a proud history as a deliberative body, carefully considering the impact of legislation not just on the current political cycle but on the effect it has on the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans for generations to come. The House version of the AHCA bill was prepared in such a rush that the CBO has not yet had time to estimate the macroeconomic effects and share that data with the American people. I hope that the Senate takes a more careful approach and listens closely to the people of Colorado and America. I encourage you to include success metrics for cost, coverage, and overall health in the Senate bill; if these metrics do not improve under the bill, its provisions should sunset.

Come 2020, the resilience of the American health care system will play a significant role in my voting choices. I will be swayed not by how low my monthly premium prices are but by whether I and the people I care about receive better or worse medical and mental health care than we could in 2016. I am blessed to have a good job and modest investments; I happily paid $221 for the Net Income Investment Tax knowing that it helps provide health care to those less fortunate than I. And I would gladly pay more in income tax to achieve a healthier and more resilient America.

Thank you for your consideration and hard work on this matter,
Trevor Stone
Boulder, Colorado
flwyd: (charbonneau ghost car)
2017-06-13 10:55 pm
Entry tags:

In this week’s episode of It Could've Been Worse…

I spent Thursday through Sunday hanging out with the Colorado burners and other local freaks at Apogaea near Trinidad in southern Colorado. I signed up for the Saturday night graveyard Ranger lead shift (just me and other Ranger rockin' the whole event). I was able to bed down in a camp hammock in the shade at 7am, and managed to kinda-sleep until around noon. I then leisurely ate breakfast and packed up camp, and left the site around 4pm. I took a left at Colorado City and spent an hour at Bishop Castle in the San Isabel Forest in Custer County. If you've never seen Bishop Castle, it's totally worth the detour if you're anywhere near Pueblo or Florence.

I got back to the Denver metro area at about quarter to 10 and cruised up I-25. At 10:20, as I exited onto US-36 to Boulder, my engine started surging and lost momentum. I was able to safely pull over to the side of the highway on top of an overpass. I took a look under the hood and didn't see anything obviously wrong, so I started the car again (something sounded odd) and tried to creep forward to the nearby off ramp. The car felt like it was going about half a mile an hour, which would've taken me until midnight to get off the freeway, so I turned off the engine and called my insurance company's contracted roadside assistance company.

Some combination of busy callers and short call center staffing meant I spent around 15 minutes on hold before I talked to a person, who said she'd dispatch a tow truck and that I'd get a confirmation text message in 10–15 minutes. 20 minutes later, I called back and spent a couple more minutes on hold. The representative said someone was still working on getting ahold of a tow for me. A few more minutes passed and I got a text that said Apple Towing & Roadside Assistance would provide the tow with an ETA of 12:30am (two hours after my initial phone call). I hung out in my car, feeling the shake as vehicles passed by in the right lane, ate camping snacks, and played games on my iPod for a while. 12:30 came with no tow truck, so I called the number given in the text (303-222-4343), which led to a recorded message that a voice mailbox had not been set up, then disconnected. I called twice more with the same result and then called roadside assistance again. After another 10+ minutes waiting in the queue, the agent tried calling the company a couple times and also couldn't get ahold of them, so they put in another dispatch request.

Finally at 1:30am, a guy with a wrecker from 24/7 Towing showed up. Holy cow was I excited to see him. He loaded up my Subaru and homeward we went. A couple minutes into the ride, a supervisor from the roadside assistance contractor called me and said he was trying to figure out why I hadn't been picked up yet. I said I had just been picked up and gave him the name of the tow company, so he said he'd go poke at their computer system.

At 2:03am I joyously walked into my front door, kissed my wife, and took a shower. (OMG was I dirty after four days running around like a weirdo in the mountains.) Final bedtime was something like 2:30am. I'd already told my coworkers that I might take Monday off, knowing I might be tired from the graveyard shift, so I set a goal of sleeping in. A combination of my internal clock, the near-solstice sun, and a hungry cat woke me up at 8:30, but I was able to relax in bed for a couple hours, which was almost as nice as sleep.

Final score: 270 mile, 10 hour trip home. 5.5 hours driving, 1 hour climbing a castle and taking photographs, 3 hours on the side of the freeway, half an hour in a tow truck.

There was a bit of a happy coda. After unloading on Monday I couldn't even get the car to start, so I called roadside assistance back to see if a tow from my house to the repair shop would be covered. The representative said it wouldn't be, but then looked at my record in the computer system which still showed that no tow had arrived. She was therefore able to schedule my 2-mile tow under the original claim at no additional cost. So I had that going for me, which was nice.

I'd been worried that this might be the final outing for my car, which is now 20 years old, and has 213k miles and a bunch of body damage. It turns out that the failure was due to my fuel pump, which only cost $850 to replace (along with the fuel filter and diagnostics), which seemed like a better deal than shopping around for a new vehicle (since I'm not sure quite what my next ride should be).

Hopefully my family is done with car trauma for the year. In March, my mom totaled her Subaru by running into a large rock at the corner of her street and my dad's minivan stopped operating safely, so they ended up buying two used vehicles in the span of a week. And then in May, Kelly's car got totaled in the crazy Denver hail storm, though the car is still fully functional.
flwyd: (currency symbols)
2017-06-06 11:35 pm
Entry tags:

Capitalists Without Bars

Among the many imbalances between labor and capital is what happens during detention.

If a laborer is in jail for a year, he loses a year's worth of wages. (Setting aside the other consequences of likely losing his job.)

If a capitalist is in jail for a year, still receives a year's worth of investment growth. He might even be able to change his investment mix if he's able to get a message to his agents.

And a corporate person can't be arrested at all.
flwyd: (Vigelandsparken face to face)
2017-06-04 03:12 pm

Groups Without Babies

Religions are moral exoskeletons. If you live in a religious community, you are enmeshed in a set of norms, relationships, and institutions that work primarily on the elephant to influence your behavior. But if you are an atheist living in a looser community with a less binding moral matrix, you might have to rely somewhat more on an internal moral compass, read by the rider. That might sound appealing to rationalists, but it is also a recipe for anomie—Durkheim's word for what happens to a society that no longer has a shared moral order. (It means, literally, “normlessness.”) We evolved to live, trade, and trust within shared moral matrices. When societies lose their grip on individuals, allowing all to do as they please, the result is often a decrease in happiness and an increase in suicide, as Durkheim showed more than a hundred years ago.

Societies that forgo the exoskeleton of religion should reflect carefully on what will happen to them over several generations. We don’t really know, because the first atheistic socieites have only emerged in Europe in the last few decades. They are the least efficient societies every known at turning resources (of which they have a lot) into offspring (of which they have few).
— Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion, "Religion is a Team Sport."

While many European countries have low native birthrates, the successful ones have high immigration rates. I see this as a transitional phase in group selection. Haidt argues that religious communities and practices are a group adaptation: groups of humans with a strong religious bond are able to overcome free rider problems and outcompete—as a group—groups which are less cohesive or whose cultural practices are less effective at bringing collaboration to fruition. For most of human history, one's membership in a religious group was generally from life through death: leaving a religious group meant leaving a tribe, or having a conquering tribe's religious system forcibly replace the conquered tribes.

But now large group "superorganisms" (including religions, nations, governments, and companies) don't have to be tied to a human lifecycle. In the 21st Century, humans have considerable ability to move between groups. Much as an animal organism doesn't die as its cells come and go at a steady pace, a paper entity can grow and thrive so long as it can get a continual influx of new resources, even if those resources shift focus to providing outcomes beneficial to the group rather than reproducing on their own. This is particularly true for companies: two parents often work for different companies; a baby born to the couple is not generally part of either company's culture; and there's no assumption that the child will grow up to be part of the company as an adult. Workers might be part of a company for a few months or a few years (and rarely more than half their lives), yet companies like IBM and UBS are older than roughly half of the countries in the UN.
flwyd: (rose red sky blue)
2017-05-21 12:08 am
Entry tags:

Eusocial Polygamy

The Wikipedia article on Eusociality notes that E. O. Wilson has claimed that humans are eusocial, but his arguments have been refuted by a large number of evolutionary biologists, who note that humans do not have division of reproductive labor.

Human colonies certainly don't have a single queen and a separate cast of infertile workers. But I can't help but wonder if the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, polygynous Muslims, and other historic polygamous cultures meet a reasonable version of this criterion since they free up many worker or soldier males without fathering duties.
flwyd: (1895 USA map)
2017-05-20 08:57 pm

A Nation of Hives

When a single hive is scaled up to the size of a nation and is led by a dictator with an army at his disposal, the results are invariably disastrous. But that is no argument for removing or suppressing hives at lower levels. In fact, a nation that is full of hives is a nation of happy and satisfied people. It’s not a very promising target for takeover by a demagogue offering people meaning in exchange for their souls. Creating a nation of multiple competing groups and parties was, in fact, seen by America’s founding fathers as a way of preventing tyranny. More recently, research on social capital has demonstrated that bowling leagues, churches, and other kinds of groups, teams, and clubs are crucial for the health of individuals and of a nation. As political scientist Robert Putnam put it, the social capital that is generated by such local groups “makes us smarter, healthier, safer, richer, and better able to govern a just and stable democracy.”
— Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion, “The Hive Switch”

The driving metaphor for the final section of the book is “We are 90 percent and 10 percent bee.” He spends quite a while arguing for a limited form of group selection (specifically multilevel selection theory which I previously resonated with in David Sloan Wilson's Darwin’s Cathedral). Haidt says that humans usually act with the familial interest that any evolutionary biologist or economist could explain. But we’re also capable of switching into a eusocial hive mode akin to ants, bees, some shrimp, and naked mole-rats. This hive capability (which other primates do not possess) has allowed humans to build progressively larger groups from tribes to city-states to nations to empires to multi-national corporations. It's at work with sports teams, religions, politics, and any scenario where groups compete with each other and can form a strong internal bond.

Cheap travel, mass media, and the Internet have allowed the last few generations to develop and scale hives which are much more geographically diffuse than we could at America’s founding. I wonder if this, plus our winner-take-all political system, puts us more at danger of one hive being able to impose that hive’s will on all the others.
flwyd: (Trevor shadow self portrait)
2017-05-14 11:58 am
Entry tags:

The Ups and Downs of Weight

I've been weighing myself a couple times a day for seven months. The first three months feature a slow decline as I would have days where I couldn't get enough food in my body and was then unable to recover. Then there was a rise as I had a drug that let me eat food (and also triggered water retention). Then a drop after surgery and I was on a liquid diet, then a rapid rise as I started eating like a normal person, then a plateau at what appears to be a new stable weight, though it's 10 lbs lighter than I used to be.



One thing worth noting is how noisy the numbers are: my weight before urinating at night is often 2 lbs higher than my weight the next morning after urinating. There are also several periods where I'm up a couple pounds for a few days and down a couple pounds for a few days as my body retains or excretes water and waste. The upshot of this is that the number on the scale is an overly precise measure of a person's general weight, especially if they're wearing clothes—my weight at a doctor's office was often five pounds higher than when I was naked at home in the morning. If you're weighing yourself hoping for a psychological result (you want the number to be high or low), you can cheat a little by timing when you step on the scale. If you just want to know how much you weigh, just round to the nearest 5 lbs and don't worry about weighing in more than once a week.
flwyd: (1895 USA map)
2017-05-13 11:45 pm

None of us are as smart as all of us are

In the same way, each individual reasoner is really good at one thing: finding evidence to support the position he or she already holds, usually for intuitive reasons. We should not expect individuals to produce good, open-minded, truth-seeking reasoning, particularly when self-interest or reputational concerns are in play. But if you put individuals together in the right way, such that some individuals can use their reasoning powers to disconfirm the claims of others, and all individuals feel some common bond or shared fate that allows them to interact civilly, you can create a group that ends up producing good reasoning as an emergent property of the social system. This is why it's so important to have intellectual and ideological diversity within any group or institution whose goal is to find truth (such as an intelligence agency or a community of scientists) or to produce good public policy (such as a legislature or advisory board).
— Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion

I think that's an excellent case against one-party rule. It also suggests that majority rule, when a single homogenous party is in the majority, is less effective than majority rule with votes requiring cross-party collaboration or at least heterogenous thought within the party.

The focus of the first part of this book is "Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second," using the metaphor of a rider on an elephant. Haidt offers a lot of evidence that our intuitions and emotions (the elephant) typically make decisions and our consciousness and reason (the rider) is mostly focused on justifying those intuitions. This contrasts, of course, with the Rationalist world view (exemplified by Plato) in which consciousness and reason are in charge and can act independently of intuition. Haidt aligns more closely with Hume and his claim that reason is "ruled by the passions," though Haidt softens the "rules" claim.
flwyd: (spencer hot springs feet)
2017-05-06 04:53 pm
Entry tags:

Liberty and Death Sticks

I'm sympathetic to a lot of libertarian arguments, but I've always felt put off by the prominent position in which American libertarians place firearms. I just thought of a punchy way to express why it bothers me.

You're not at liberty as long as someone's pointing a gun at your head.

Libertarians tend to focus on unchecked power in government hands. But I'm worried about unchecked power in anyone's hands, particularly if I don't trust their trigger reflexes.

(Previous thinking about libertarian gun arguments.)
flwyd: (pentacle disc)
2017-04-29 10:36 pm
Entry tags:

RIP Margaret Alia Denny

I was saddened to hear that [livejournal.com profile] teal_cuttlefish Margaret Alia Denny passed away today. It sounded like her body couldn't quite readjust after a surgery a couple days ago. If you have a Facebook account, you may be able to read more on her wall; as a non-user, I had to have Kelly show me what folks posted.

I knew Alia as the co-leader of Hearthstone Community Church, which she founded about 25 years ago. Hearthstone most prominently hosts Open Full Moon events in Denver, providing an important venue for folks curious about Paganism and Pagans, often new to town, who are seeking to connect with the community. As organizer, Alia got a diverse cast of characters to take their turn leading a ritual and sharing their approach to Paganism. Open Full Moon provided the venue for many folks to organize and lead their first ritual. Since neo-Pagans tend to be solitary practitioners or gather in small private groups, Alia's nurturing guidance and commitment to community and diversity of practice was a great asset to countless Pagans. She helped us find each other, helped us find our path, and gave us the space and encouragement to grow as leaders. Alia also performed a lot of ministerial services, from weddings to personal counseling.

I really admire the demonstration of courage and commitment to openness that Alia displayed when I hosted an Open Full Moon ritual about Jesus (my journal post, her friends-locked post). I knew it would be a very controversial ritual in the group; a week in advance the church leaders almost cancelled the event, but Alia stood by the principle of diversity of view. I didn't realize how big of a trigger issue it would be for her. But to her great credit, despite being emotionally and visually upset, she stayed in the circle and extended her energy to help support others in the group who were taken aback. At the end of the night she told me "Never again," and I think OFM has stayed a long way from Jesus in the last dozen years. Yet I continue to give her respect for giving me the opportunity to give it a try, and I think a lot of folks got a lot of value from the experience. It would've been easy for the group to say no, but Alia had the great strength to see through the fear and worry and say yes. In a comment thread on her post, she wrote When principles and preferences battle, I try to go with principles. That was definitely her character.

Alia had a lot of strengths in addition to her skills as a religious leader. She was on the on the Board of Directors of Dragonfest when I first attended and continued to advocate her ideas in the community for a few years after the traditional BoD burnout. She was politically active; she fought for feminist ideals, disability rights and more. At least once she ran for office, garnering 37% of the votes for Arapahoe County Commissioner as a Libertarian. She was a mother; although I haven't seen Alyria in over a decade, she was a fantastic tween. She was a techno-acolyte, communicating through computers years before the Internet was a big thing and working in software for more than a decade before the dot com crash put a major kink in her employment trajectory. She was crafty; crocheting up a storm and more. She had a geeky sense of humor that I quickly grokked. She also had an immense drive: her body faced a lot of challenges, but she wasn't one to give up—she made things happen, kept commitments, and raised energy through force of will.

Not long after the Jesus ritual, I stopped going to OFM—not because of any conflict but because life happened and other community attractions grabbed my Friday nights. Around the same time, Alia stopped going to Dragonfest, so our circles have drifted apart. I hope I have a chance to go to a memorial, or at least this Friday's Open Full Moon.
flwyd: (Trevor glowing grad macky auditorium)
2017-04-23 12:21 am

CWA Notes 2017

I made it to eight panels at this year's Conference on World Affairs at CU. Back in college, I would skip most of my classes during CWA week and listen to at least 20, but recently I just pop in for a few interesting talks. Some interesting notes:
Hurricanes! )
Refugees: Crisis? )
Ambassador to Vietnam )
From China with climate data )
Politics, comedy, and lady parts )
Revelations of Art and Symbolism )
Equal opportunity Internet access )

Wow, that took a long time. I typed notes on a tablet during the conference, but it would've been hard to interpret. Retranscribing and contextualizing involved a lot more time-consuming typing than I expected.

flwyd: (McCain Palin Abe Maude Simpsons)
2017-04-16 01:51 pm

Politics of Victimization, Resentment, and Cynicism

In America, the political left and political right have conspired to create a culture and politics of victimization, and all the benefits of resentment and cynicism have accrued to the right. That's because resentment and apocalypse are weapons that can be used only to advance a politics of resentment and apocalypse. They are the weapons of the reactionary and the conservative — of people who fear and resist the future. Just as environmentalists believe they can create a great ecological politics out of apocalypse, liberals believe they can create a great progressive politics out of resentment; they cannot. Grievance and victimization make us smaller and less generous and thus serve only reactionaries and conservatives.

As liberals and environmentalists lost political power, they abandoned a politics of the strong, aspiring, and fulfilled for a politics of the weak, aggrieved, and resentful. The unique circumstances of the Great Depression — a dramatic, collective, and public fall from prosperity — are not being repeated today, nor are they likely to be repeated anytime soon. Today's reality of insecure affluence is a very different burden.

It is time for us to draw a new fault line through American political life, one that divides those dedicated to a politics of resentment, limits, and victimization from those dedicated to a politics of gratitude, possibility, and overcoming. The challenge for American liberals and environmentalists isn't to convince the American people that they are poor, insecure, and low status but rather the opposite: to speak to their wealth, security, and high status. It is this posture that motivates our higher aspirations for fulfillment. The way to get insecure Americans to embrace an expansive, generous, and progressive politics is not to tell them they are weak but rather to point out all the ways in which they are strong.
— Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility, “Status and Security”

The thrust of the book is that people support environmental protection when their more basic needs have been satisfied and they're less focused on basic material concerns. The authors argue that we can better address environmental concerns by raising standards of living rather than focusing on limits and restriction. It's worth noting that the book was published in 2007 before the financial crisis, but I think many of their ideas hold in the post-crash world where even more Americans are worried about job security.
flwyd: (step to the moon be careful)
2017-04-15 04:29 pm
Entry tags:

Retroactive Fortune

Cleaning out the pantry shelves, I found a fortune cookie that was at least a year and a half old (and smelled it). The fortune said You will be selected for a promotion because of your accomplishments. Sure enough, I got promoted to Staff Software Engineer a year ago.