Open letter to Ann Arbor city council ahead of climate funding vote

Tonight, March 4th 2019, Ann Arbor City Council will be discussing a resolution sponsored by Councilmember Jane Lumm to divert funding away from fighting climate change.  The city had planned to use almost $1 million/year to fund its Climate Action Plan.

Here’s what I wrote to my council members (Ali Ramlawi and Chip Smith) as well as Mayor Taylor and the rest of council.

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Dear Ali, Chip, and other councilmembers –

I hope this finds you well.

I’ll be candid with you: some days, I’m terrified of climate change. In the abstract, I’m worried about the most vulnerable, say, the many millions in Bangladesh who will flee their homes by 2050 as the seas rise. But what terrifies me, what I think about when I pace with my youngest son in the middle of the night, is what could happen here in Ann Arbor, to my family.

Science is clear: if we don’t make radical changes, at all levels, climate change will destabilize the planet. Ann Arbor may be one of the last places to be affected, but in a worst-case scenario, a collapse of global civilization would spare no one. What happens if food and goods stop arriving? If power goes down, if medical supplies are gone, if we descend into dystopia? Our society is too complex to be unwound back to pre-industrial times.

But I try not to dwell on that possibility. Both because it’s unproductive – even paralyzing – and because that dystopian future isn’t written yet.

On my more optimistic days, I feel lucky to be alive now, at the time of reckoning. We are privileged to be the ones at the wheel as the bus hurtles toward the cliff. And a low-carbon world doesn’t mean austerity – it could be even more beautiful than what we have now, if we get their on our own terms.

To take the path toward paradise, or even survival, we must act on all levels. We must cut carbon emissions in half by 2030*. Of course, federal and state governments must lead on massive tasks like the switch to renewable energy, and individual actions will add up. But cities play a critical role, too. You are best positioned to lead us toward fulfilling the goals of our Climate Action Plan, and you can pull on levers like housing, zoning, construction code, parking, and more. Climate change touches, and is touched by, everything.

In the scale of what action is needed, tonight’s funding vote – 880k/year? – is just a tiny step. While I ask you to vote tonight to preserve the climate change funding, my real ask is that you dive into the fight for the survival of humanity, of other species, and of our families, in the months and years to come. It may be humanity’s most important decade as we turn the ship of civilization around toward the light. With our values, skills, and resources, Ann Arbor is one of the best-positioned communities in the world to lead the way.

If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to facing the climate crisis – or if you think I’m wrong, and immediate city-level action isn’t crucial to preserving humanity’s future – I’d love to meet for a cup of coffee to discuss. My kids are counting on you. Here’s to a thriving Ann Arbor, and Planet Earth, in 2100!

In hope,

Sam

* – In private: I’m not confident we’ll hit this 2030 target.  But we must try, as even if we miss, it matters how close we come.  As David Wallace-Wells writes to start this article, “It’s not too late.  In fact, it never will be … This a problem that gets worse over time the longer we produce greenhouse gas, and can be made better if we choose to stop. Which means that no matter how hot it gets, no matter how fully climate change transforms the planet and the way we live on it, it will always be the case that the next decade could contain more warming, and more suffering, or less warming and less suffering. Just how much is up to us, and always will be.”

What I care about vs. what I write about

I’m disappointed with the misalignment between what’s important to me and what I write about here.  Here, I acknowledge and explore that.

What I care about: meaningful, exciting, or useful ideas

I have a list of substantial, interesting topics I’ve meant to write about.  Some are still relevant, others have drifted behind me as missed opportunities (e.g., I meant to discuss the August 2018 Ann Arbor Democratic primary elections).  Some are years old, others freshly sparked from recently conversations.

Some of these topics are explored in abandoned drafts.  Others manifest on paper as just a single bullet point, albeit with hours of associated reflection and many references ready to go in my head.

These more meaningful topics demand focus and time, which I have in only limited supply.  Such posts are also probably better when well-researched, which requires more time – though I’m growing suspicious that the burden of assembling links may not be worth it if it paralyzes me.  And I question whether it’s my place to write on them. Is my opinion valid? Do I know what I’m talking about?

What I then write about: trivial, dull matters.

Meanwhile, as these ideas languish, look at some of the blog posts I did manage to write in 2018.  I ranted against the TrailKeg, a thneed.  I wondered if old yard sign frames could be welded into a Papasan chair.  I wrote a how-to based on what I learned when configuring a specific model of solar panel monitoring gateway.

Continue reading What I care about vs. what I write about

Studded bike tires for winter cargo biking

I love biking and hate driving. Thus I try to bike as much as possible. Biking in the cold is easy enough, you just bundle up the right way. The only truly specialized product needed is pogies. I install my winter accessories on my e-assist cargo bike, which I can use for solo commuting but also ferrying children and fetching groceries.

This served me well until the current set of snow-thaw-freeze cycles in Ann Arbor. Water runs onto previously-clear streets from uphill snowbanks; this turns into ice at night.

Going downhill on Madison St last week, I wiped out hard on black ice, sliding sideways (along with my bike) down the icy pavement. Fortunately I was alone, and only bruised my elbow and my pride. This was my first fall since I started tracking my distance biked, so 2,900+ miles. I was riding a Yuba Boda Boda with relatively-wide 2.15″ Freedom tires – good grip by summer standards, but useless on ice.

That spill was enough for me to try studded tires. I put a 26″ Kenda Klondike on my front wheel. And the difference has been remarkable. I now feel my back tire sliding, but can recover from that; meanwhile, my front wheel grips the ice.

This morning I went through West Park, where snowmelt had coated the paved path in shiny ice for stretches of 10 feet at a time. No slipping! Ditto when navigating the bumpy ice ruts that have established themselves on my street in the last month. I’m riding both cautiously and with delight.

My verdict thus far is yes, studded tires make safe year-round biking possible! And that a single studded tire, on the front, is a big improvement from none (the internet had suggested this, but not unanimously).

My studded rear tire was a special order item because my bike has a 20″ rear wheel. The Schwalbe Winter Marathon is on its way and I’ll be installing it immediately upon arrival.

The studded tire makes a crackling sound, which I don’t mind except that it makes it hard to hear my kids on the back of the bike at speeds above 15 mph. It seems to grip clear pavement well, and while it’s designed for ice, the knobby tread is an improvement for navigating snow compared to the road-style tread of my Schwalbe Marathons.

And while it seems to slow the bike a little, I’m running these tires on an e-assist model, so that’s not a problem.

Speaking of which: studded tires and cargo bikes seem like the perfect pairing. Cargo bikes are already slow and heavy; they are costly, with the expense of studded tires relatively low in comparison; and they transport children, not just a single carefree rider, so safety is paramount. (And the bike looks more gnarly on studs).

I am surprised not to see more cargo bike purveyors pushing studded tires. Perhaps the cargo-biking demographic is more likely to just leave the bike at home when it gets icy?

Configuring Enphase Envoy for wifi without ethernet cord

This is a how-to for connecting your Enphase Envoy (the oval one with the LCD screen) to connect to a home Wi-Fi network, without using an ethernet cable or the Enphase Installer Toolkit app.

Enphase’s how-to guides give you about 80% of the information you need to do this, below are notes on things I figured out to fill in the other 20%.  Their guidance is geared toward installers, while this post is for homeowners who want to connect their Envoy to the home Wi-Fi network and don’t have a WPS button on their router or need to use another option.

Continue reading Configuring Enphase Envoy for wifi without ethernet cord

Should I stop flying?

Summary: I like riding in airplanes and to me, it’s normal.  And I’m under social pressure to fly.  But when I confront the science of climate change, air travel seems immoral.  Should I stop?  Will I stop?


I’m writing this because it’s been on my mind and:

  1. Posts & articles are typically about “this thing I did” not “something I’m considering.”  I want to show that making decisions is messy.
  2. If I decide to stop flying, which may seem drastic, this will show I was considering it…
  3. … and if I keep flying, this will show I considered it – which could make me look thoughtful, or more likely, weak and unprincipled.

Why

The climate situation is dire.  I can’t overstate this.  Read coverage of the most recent (Oct 2018) IPCC report and/or Joseph Romm’s book Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know.  Humanity is on pace to destroy the world.  And the worst polluters are well-off Americans like me.  Because we do high-carbon luxury things that most of the world can’t afford.  Flying is one of the most-polluting activities.

Continue reading Should I stop flying?

Upcycling yard sign frames into a papasan chair?

Filed under “ideas I’d pursue if I had infinite time:” could I weld the metal wickets from old political yard signs into the bowl of a papasan chair?  There are tons of signs rendered useless each election when a candidate loses or a proposal is decided.  These are free or nearly-free, and indeed many are left by the side of the road to rust.

The thin metal rods bend well.  I imagine giving them the proper curve, then welding a grid of them into a bowl shape.  Welding is on my long-term to-learn list, perhaps in 2019.  Would this be an easy trial project or a foolishly hard one?  It would at least be low stakes.

I’m not sure what material the rods are.  Galvanized steel?  I’ve seen some of them rust.  If galvanized, I gather additional safety precautions may be in order from zinc fumes that off-gas during welding.

Someday, perhaps.  I wonder if it’s been tried, or what else people have made from this source of free metal rods.

Fully-remote jobs don’t need in-person interviews

I hired a data analyst last year who started working for me in December.  He lives in Colorado, I live in Michigan.  After 10 months of working together, week in and week out, I finally “met” him at our annual company conference last month (September).  Does that seem funny?  I was surprised by how tall he was, but otherwise, no, it’s business as usual around here.

I’ve now embraced the idea of hiring someone and working with them without first meeting them in person.  If you’ll be working with them remotely, and your team and organization have the right culture and systems in place for that, why would you insist on in-person interviews?

In a truly remote-first organization, there’s little cause to fly someone out for an in-person interview.  And there are many reasons not to.  When you weigh the costs and benefits, it’s not worth it.  You’re a remote organization – embrace it!

Continue reading Fully-remote jobs don’t need in-person interviews

The cargo bike changed my life

In the summer of 2016, I was visiting Brooklyn for work.  Walking down Fulton Mall during morning rush hour, I saw a man pedaling through traffic with his school-aged daughter perched on the back of his bike, her feet resting on running boards.

I had never seen such a thing and couldn’t get it out of my head.  I did some research online, searching terms like “bike transport kids running boards” and encountering the proper name: cargo bike.  When I found myself back in NYC a few months later, I stopped by 718 Cyclery, talked to Joe, and ordered a Yuba Boda Boda.

That bike changed my life.  Let me count the ways:

My health

My bike before the Boda Boda was an old hand-me-down Trek hybrid that I neither took care of nor rode much.  At most maybe a 3 mile commute a few times per month in the summer.

Continue reading The cargo bike changed my life

DIY Hops Trellis

I started growing hops at my parents’ home in Chicago in 2008.  In the summer of 2011 we moved them to Michigan and I built this trellis:

hops trellis
Hops grow from the frames on the right up the lines to the tree on the left

Now that it’s time for the trellis to find a new home, I’m writing up my design for posterity.  Notable aspects include that it can be harvested without ascending a ladder and that the top is mounted on a tree.

Each of the three hop plants (Cascade, Mt. Hood, Centennial) has its own starting frame.  It runs up the yellow chain for 5 feet, then starts climbing a line up into the trees:

closeup of wood hops frame
Overgrown vegetation shows I’ve lost interest

The frames are a 5 foot tall 4″ x 4″ vertical post with a short 2″ x 4″ crossbar at the bottom and a longer one at the top.  The ends of the bottom and top crossbars are connected by chains, allowing the hops to spread laterally as they grow out and up to the top crossbar.  The chains are attached to metal eyelets at the top and hammered in with large galvanized staples at the bottom:

wood frame with chain for hops

From the eyelets on the top crossbar, six synthetic rope lines (two from each base frame) run up to a steel ring hoisted in a tree, where they clip on with carabiners:

rope clipped onto the ring

A pulley wheel is tied around a fork in the tree, and the ring is on a long synthetic line that runs through this pulley wheel.  At harvesting time, the ring can be lowered from the ground, using the pulley, and the carabiners unclipped for transporting the bines to a picking area.  Then the carabiners are reattached and the lines are raised again, all without use of a ladder.

The good and the bad

With 7 years of experience, I can comment on how the design worked.

The good:

  • Ease of raising and lowering: not having to climb a ladder is great.
  • Longevity: the entire system has held up well, including the synthetic lines, which I never took in for the winter.  I don’t think jute or a similar natural twine would have lasted.  One wood staple came out from a frame, which is an easy fix.

The bad:

  • Shallow climbing angle.  I should have mounted the ring higher in a tree, kept the lines tighter, or planted the hops closer to the tree.  As it was, the bottom of the climbing lines flattened out under the weight of the plant and the hops needed some help to grow in the right direction.  Manual training of hop plants is not uncommon, but I think a steeper climb would have avoided this.
  • Mowing around the trellises was tricky, both around the bases and under the lines.  This  meant grass and other unwanted vegetation encroached on the hops.
  • I was afraid I’d get tangled in the lines while sledding in my yard; this never happened, but could have.
Separate from my particular growing setup: I lost interest in growing hops.  I’ve stopped training or harvesting them.  A fresh hop beer is fun to make, but not worth (to me) the hassle of training and maintaining the bines.  And trying to preserve and package hops for use throughout the year is tedious.  They won’t stay good as long as professionally-packed hops from the store (I know: in one season before I had kids, I spent hours and hours  drying my hops and turning them into plugs).  Once the charm of growing them wore off, it made no sense to spend my time on growing instead of buying pounds in bulk.