Category Archives: ruminations

Dumb kids movies mimicking violent cliches from dumb grownup movies

Most TV and movies are trash, whether for adults or kids. The grownup material loads up on mindless violence or sex to compensate for its underlying dullness and unoriginality. Kids media sells stuff. None of this is news.

But twice this fall I’ve bumped into disheartening synergy that I felt merited a lament: the endless recycling of violent grownup-movie cliches had jumped the track into movies for small children. This seems like the worst direction this could go, though maybe not surprising.

Here is my n = 2 of complaints. I’m sure if I had the misfortune of watching such movies in increments of more than 45 seconds I would have more to rant about.

Toy Story 3

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Imagine a world without oil and gas

It’s stuck with me since I saw it in the Myrtle Beach airport in July. A young man wore a drawstring backpack printed with the slogan “imagine a world without oil and gas.” Under that it said, “IOGA WV”.

I first read this phrase the way I would if I had uttered it: as an aspirational call to imagine a world without oil and gas. Something like AOC’s “Message from the Future” or the Transition Handbook, whose featured blurb notes that “most of us avoid thinking about what happens when oil runs out (or becomes prohibitively expensive)” [more on this later].

When a search for “IOGA WV” revealed it to be the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia, I realized the phrase was meant differently. There aren’t many hits when you Google that sentence, but they mostly come from oil & gas interests. The phrase on the backpack is meant not as a serious call but as a statement of ridicule: life is unimaginable without oil and gas.

The phrase captured my imagination, in part because I’m amused by its Janus word nature: its two meanings are opposites. But also because in the way I first read it, it’s a succinct, elegant clarion call to dream as we must. In the effort to move beyond fossil fuels and preserve a habitable planet, it’s likely that our imagination, not technology, will be the limiting factor.

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Growing adoption of e-bikes, cargo bikes in Ann Arbor

I don’t have hard data on this. Ann Arbor should collect this kind of data – Portland, OR has being doing bike counts since 1991. But I feel confident that the number of electric-assist bikes and cargo bikes on the road in Ann Arbor is growing rapidly.

Yesterday I parked in the excellent covered bike parking in the 4th and Washington structure and when I returned saw five e-bikes parked there:

Contrary to what you might think, not all e-cargo bikes are green.

Ann Arbor is a good town for an e-bike. It has some serious hills, which many people can’t or don’t wish to ride up while commuting. It has people with disposable income and environmental leanings who can be the early adopters. And we have two great stores for e-Bikes, Human Electric Hybrids and the newer Urban Rider (same ownership).

(Regarding one particular hill: the William Street Bikeway is slated to open this fall. This will be a veritable sales pitch for e-bikes, offering a safe and pleasant way to get to campus and downtown … to those riders who can surmount the steep, short climb up William from First to Ashley. Increase your assist level!)

Electric-assist bikes will grow in popularity here, becoming a critical part of how we move around in a world without abundant gasoline. (Even in a world with cheap gas they’re gaining steam, since they’re more fun, healthier, and cheaper than cars). E-bikes are already hugely popular in Europe and China, and while America has been slower to catch on, sales have nearly doubled annually in recent years. They’re the future.

I chatted with the owner of the Sondors bike (pictured above) as he locked up. He said he had been close to buying a moped but a friend talked him into buying an e-bike instead. He’s happy he did.

It’s a pleasure to watch e-bike numbers grow here in these early years of adoption.

A Car-Free Yellowstone

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Yellowstone National Park.  We drove a lot outside the park, unavoidably.  From the airport in Bozeman to the town of West Yellowstone, and to the park entrance every day.  We also drove many miles daily in the park.  There, we might be able to do better for our visitors (and it is our park) and the park itself.

When we talk about public transit locally, a perennial question is of ridership volume: when do we cross the tipping point where the transit service becomes financially viable and practical for users, even preferential to riding in a car?  Yellowstone may be there.  Its crowds and traffic are the cost of its success, but a bus system could mitigate these, opening the park to more people while preserving its navigability.  And a car-free Yellowstone would be better for the flora and fauna as well.

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Cargo bikes are expensive right now

Cargo bikes, in particular those with electric-assist motors, are life-changing.  They are also, unfortunately, expensive.  (Mostly.  For now.  Which I’ll come back to).  The price tags of most brands put them out of reach of many potential riders and make them appear to be toys of the comfortable.

This came up in discussion at a cargo bike group ride this weekend: we all field constant questions about the bikes from strangers and the one that makes us pause is, “how much did it cost?”  To the owner of an average adult bike, a thousand-dollar bike can seem unfathomable.  And even if you compare it to the cost of purchasing a(nother) car – which is often a fair comparison, say, for Hum of the City‘s family – the very top-end cargo bikes from Riese & Muller or similar can be half the cost of a subcompact car.  And said Toyota Yaris can get you to your job 30 miles away, which the bike cannot.

This week I did 50 miles of bike commuting, mostly moving my kids around, and 0 miles of driving.  It was delightful.  And I remain confident that e-cargo bikes are the future.  Here I want to put the high price tags in what I hope will be the accurate historical context and explore factors that will make them universally accessible.  Time will tell.

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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.

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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.

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Things I want to do in 2018

Somewhat belatedly, here’s what I plan and hope to do in 2018.

R Development

Early in 2018, I’d like to finish up a couple of ongoing open-source software projects:

  1. (DONE) Release janitor v 1.0.  I have worked hard on this, it’s 99% done as of this writing, and I enjoy the benefits of the new tabyl() functions every day – but until it’s on CRAN, the impact is limited.
  2. (DONE) Participate in Kaggle’s March Mania challenge, ideally updating my how-to resource.

Then perhaps a break would be healthy, during which I spend more of my free time away from code and the computer.

Making things

I used to build things.  Including complex projects like my electric home brewery.  I’ve fallen out of that.  In 2018 I’d like to again build some small physical things:

  1. A keg washer like Colin’s (DONE)

Writing

I’d like to finish drafts and ideas I have accumulated.  Including:

  1. My proposal for a Maple Road Bike Highway (DONE: The North Maple Cycle Track)
  2. Several cargo bike posts
    1. The cargo bike changed my life
  3. My process for lime-softening well water for homebrewing

Activism

I’ll probably get involved in campaigns given what a busy year it looks to be politically.  Which means I should focus on other things before the fall.

I’m especially interested in the voting access and anti-gerrymandering ballot initiatives, the gubernatorial race, and of course Ann Arbor City Council.

To spread the joy of practical biking, I’d like to lend my cargo bike to at least 3 people/families this year.

Physical activity

  • I hope to again log 1,200 miles on a bicycle. (DONE, 1232)
  • I want to ride:
    • To Dexter and back
    • To Ypsi and back. (DONE 2x in July, including once with a kid on the back)
  • And get both kids riding pedal bikes. (DONE and it’s beautiful)

Things I won’t do

Taking things off my plate to make room for others.  A small example: I’m not entering the National Homebrew Competition this year.  Perhaps I’ll keep vegetable gardening to a minimal level.

I’ve been taking a break from following Ann Arbor news, though that may change during election season.

And the best for last:

Expecting another child this summer is the biggest event of the year.  But unlike resolutions and plans above, that one will by default get all the attention it needs.