Categories
Software

AntennaPod: the open-source podcast app

I still like the idea of spotlighting open-source products that deliver a superior experience while operating under a model that benefits users and society. Last month I wrote about gathio, the event planning site. You can find my musings about FOSS (free, open-source software) in that post. This one will be shorter.

The obvious choice for today would be to write about Mastodon, the decentralized open-source alternative to Twitter. I’m active on the server for Washtenaw County and I support the project on Patreon. However, a good look at the project and its features would take more time than I can muster at present.

But I got this post idea from Masto. Someone asked for recommendations for a podcast app. And as I recommended the lovely AntennaPod to yet another person, I realized I could plug it here too.

I’ve been using AntennaPod for almost a decade, since its early days. It was decent even as it was getting built out, but in the past few years it has stabilized as feature-complete and rock solid.

AntennaPod has all the features I could want in a podcast player. It’s easy to use. And it doesn’t track what I listen to or serve me ads. Period.

It’s free to use. If you try to contribute to support the project, you’ll see a slew of non-monetary options. Should you manage to find the small link to donate money, you’ll be deterred by a popup suggesting you oughtn’t:

Classy <3

So I’ll continue contributing my time and money to other open-source projects while being grateful to the folks who keep AntennaPod humming. I highly recommend it as the app to enjoy podcasts without being surveilled and/or advertised to. It’s available only for Android, not iOS.

Categories
Climate change Imagine A World

The Unusual Cost Structure of Geothermal Heat Pumps

Since writing my post Planning for a Heat Pump Furnace in Michigan, I’m getting closer to taking the plunge. I’ve learned some interesting things along the way, most of all about geothermal, which was not on my radar at first. This post looks at the near- and long-term costs of geothermal heat pumps and the incentives they create.

Does cost matter? It shouldn’t, but it does. At a societal level, the urgency of electrification is well-established. Humanity must replace fossil-fuel-burning equipment with electric alternatives and the grid that powers them must be converted to running on renewables. The future is grim if these things don’t happen.

In the face of ecological collapse, it shouldn’t much factor into the equation whether electrification costs somewhat more or less than continuing to spew carbon. At least, not at a societal level.

But for individuals faced with replacing an old gas furnace, of course cost is a deciding factor. As I got price estimates and read, I made a spreadsheet for some basic cost comparisons of geothermal vs. high-efficiency gas heat (with electric A/C). The result surprised me.

Categories
Writing

This year it’s NaNoEdMo

A year ago I was working on my outline for National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo. And the following month I completed the challenge, writing 50k words. Progress slowed after that, but I finished the first draft of my book around May of this year. It currently clocks in at 98,354 words, longer than I’d expected.

And many of those words have got to go. No one has read my draft yet because it needs a thorough edit. At this stage the big to-dos are to fill in placeholders (“it’s in [PLACE]”, says one character to another) and slice out crud that makes the book drag.

I haven’t been prioritizing that editing. Which then bums me out because if you write a book and no one reads it does it make a sound? And while I seek to finish the thing, it’s not a chore. I enjoy returning to that fictional world.

The maples have mostly shed their leaves, while the oaks remain mostly clad. It’s NaNoWriMo time once more. I’m thinking I will participate on my own terms. This year’s challenge will be:

  • Work on the book at least a little every day
  • Get the draft to a point where it’s ready to share with an alpha reader on Dec. 1. Fill in all the placeholders and clean up as much of the rest as I can.

I have been developing an outline for another story. This one is a science-based thriller, Jurassic Park vibes but part of a tech billionaire’s sinister plot. All while celebrating one of evolution’s most incredible feats. I think it would be significantly easier to write, because (a) I’ve done it once before (b) it’s a little more basic, with more cliffhangers and less character development.

But that’ll have to wait until I make more progress with Book 1. Maybe I’ll take a crack at the thriller for NaNoWriMo 2023, if all works out.

Categories
How-to

Replace Evite and Facebook with gathio

Tl;dr – check out gath.io for making chill, inclusive, not-creepy event pages. Unlike Evite, It won’t track you or serve you Bitcoin ads.


It amazes me how a free, open-source program can outperform its proprietary, commercialized equivalents. An obvious one is R, the statistical programming language. It blows away competitors like SPSS. R is a huge project, but some great open-source projects can surpass commercial competition while remaining a single person’s side project.

It touches my heart that people build great things together, transparently, and then make them freely available. I’ve long meant to write posts where I shout out a free, open-source software (FOSS) that has improved my life materially or spiritually. I was finally spurred to write when I got an Evite yesterday, for a 7-year-old’s birthday party. I opened the link on my phone and saw:

barf

Evite has always had annoying ads and links, but this took it to the next level. I buy as little as possible from Amazon. Amazon’s bad enough. But Bitcoin?? It’s a Ponzi scheme that lures in unsuspecting saps (see the Citations Needed episode on manipulative Bitcoin/crypto/NFT advertising) and sows remarkable environmental destruction. Happy birthday, kid, here’s 0.0005 Bitcoin. Good luck spending it. (Web3 Is Going Great has you covered for crypto realism and schadenfreude).

These ads put me over the edge, but I’ve disliked Evite for years. In particular, it’s creepy that the organizer can track who has opened and viewed the invite.

And then there’s Facebook events. Because I’m not on Facebook, I sometimes forget how many events are organized there. Until someone sends me one I want to attend and I’m unable to view the info or RSVP. Argh!

Why must we engage with platforms that track us, shove ads in our faces, and sell our data in order to organize a dang birthday party or seed-swap?? Well, someone else felt the same way and did something about it. Enter: gathio!

Categories
Books Parenting

There Once Was a Boy Named Pierre

My kids and I have enjoyed a series of Scholastic DVDs where classic children’s books are read aloud with bare-bones animations. They blur the line between a book and a movie. And they work for all ages (important when you have a 3-year-old and 11-year-old watching the same screen). I enjoyed our latest find so much I’m sharing it here.

It’s a DVD of Six Maurice Sendak books (from the Ann Arbor library). Including Where the Wild Things Are, sure, but the bigger hits with us were In The Night Kitchen and Pierre. Pierre is a gem in particular, the rare case when the movie version improves on the (already very good) book. It’s set to music and sung by Carole King, complemented with snappy drumming. Enjoy:

The lion looked Pierre right in the eye and asked him if he’d like to die

It’s irresistible, with great melody and a delivery that navigates often-irregular meter and rhyme. I’d somehow been unfamiliar with Carole King (“Regarded as one of the most significant and influential musicians of all time“, doh) and have since come to appreciate her skill as a performer and composer.

This adaptation of Pierre is from a 1975 musical, Really Rosie, that Sendak and King created together, based on his books. I’d love to see it performed.

The story’s moral is unobjectionable. It’s a little preachy, but I’m on board with the message as I see it: life is brief and precious, so engage with it earnestly. (In my case, read books like Sendak’s while my kids are young). The book/song is funny, quirky, and above all a heck of tune. I keep playing it to get it out of my head, but it hasn’t worked yet. Pierre’s in there!

Categories
Climate change Imagine A World Local reporting Politics ruminations

Regular people having a very unregular thought

Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò made this lovely remark on a podcast episode:

A lot of these people that we rightly respect and revere in organizing circles were just regular people who had the very unregular thought that they could do something about the world around them. And who just decided to do it.

Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò

And it’s stuck with me, so I’m memorializing it here. It’s dead-on.

The most recent time I thought of it was last week, when catching up with a friend at Workantile. He had organized a group buy of solar panels for his neighbors and, in the process, learned that his subdivision’s homeowners association (HOA) bans solar panels that are visible from the street. The reason? They’re aesthetically unpleasing and will damage property values.

He then had the unregular thought that he could do something about that. So he looked into what it would take to get that rule removed. That led him to power mapping, and in particular, the HOA board of directors. And he found that no one has ever been elected to this HOA board. The member meetings never make quorum, so all board vacancies are filled by appointment. By the board. Pretty unhealthy governance.

Now he’s looking at doing something about that. That’s a bigger challenge and a very boring way to fight climate change. But it’s the right thing to do. And it’s possible, with a big enough dose of unregular thinking.

I send love and solidarity to everyone who sees something that could be better and instead of tolerating it, says, I could do something about that. And just decides to do it.

Categories
How-to Imagine A World Local reporting Making

Success at All Hands Active Repairsday

This is a love letter to Ann Arbor’s scrappy little downtown makerspace, All Hands Active. In particular, their weekly Repairsday event, which takes place on Thursdays from 6-8pm. And it’s a vignette of how they helped revive a lovely old keyboard/synthesizer.

All Hands Active is a nonprofit. Their mission is educational. I’d argue it’s political, too, though not in the common sense of the word as it relates to electoral politics or parties. Rather, there’s an ethos that you should be free to modify and repair things, that people should help and teach each other, that consumer culture and its quickly-obsolescent, disposable goods are bad, and that knowledge should be free. (Some of that might be me projecting).

So, Repairsday. Any human can bring in an object they’d like to repair. Volunteer AHA members are on hand to help. That can look like advice, diagnosis, or attempting to fix the item together. Sometimes an item can’t be fixed, but that’s okay too. You learn from taking it apart, and for me, knowing that a thing was unfixable – in my case, a toaster that only heated one of its two slots – put me at ease with discarding it.

Last week, AHA Repairsday helped me fix a classic keyboard, rescuing a valuable object from the landfill and giving it a second life.

Categories
How-to Parenting

How to skate like a dad

Years ago, someone accused me of being a hipster. I told them, I don’t even really care about music, so how could I be a hipster? They replied, that’s the most hipster answer!

Could it be the same for skateboarding, where my natural lack of style is in fact its own style? Hi, I’m Sam, and I’m a sk8r dad.

I’ve identified as a skate dad since I began skateboarding last summer, and when I skate with others it’s with my little “sk8r dadz” crew. But it wasn’t until I saw a blogger roasting the fad of “dad tricks” that it clicked for me that this is truly a style. Here’s a representative excerpt:

Dadness already had been stoked to a near-inferno by the widespread re-adoption of loose-fit, faded denim jeans, sometimes with a sensible cuff-roll well suited to low-impact cycling or safely depressing the pedals of a used minivan.

The Rise of the Noseslide Shove It Heralds the Age of Dad Tricks

Ouch! I certainly wear loose-fit faded jeans to cycle and drive a minivan. One quibble: I’d argue that rolling up your pant cuffs is trying too hard. It’s more dad style to have a chain guard and/or just get grease on your pants. But yeah, this has my number.

Well, if “dad tricks” is a style, I am its paragon. I appreciate the effort by these skaters to do dad tricks, but they’re too young, too talented, too far removed to know real dad skating. Here’s my insider take on being a sk8r dad.

Categories
Biking DIY Gardening

The biggest thing I’ll ever tote on a bike

I have carried a lot of things on my cargo bike. It’s become a game: what unlikely object can I next transport via bicycle? I clearly remember the rush of hauling my first big item, a suitcase, five years ago. That load was liberating then, pushing the boundaries of what I could do, but now I wouldn’t think twice about it.

I returned this suitcase to Macy’s and went shopping at Briarwood Mall. October 2016.

Yesterday I reached my high score in this game, if you will. Like in a heist movie, I sought to pull off the world’s greatest job before taking it easy evermore. And I did it.

I’m not done hauling – I’ll still carry things on this bike every day – but during the record-breaking ride I swore that if I made it home without incident, I’d not try anything this big again. This is the tale of hauling a 275 gallon plastic tote, in a metal pallet, six miles across Ann Arbor.

Categories
ruminations Someday

Finite time for unlimited spring fun

I am reading (like many people) Four Thousand Weeks. That and other similar resources have sharpened my awareness of how little time we have when compared to all the things we could do.

That feeling is especially acute right now, in March. This is when some of my favorite seasonal events happen:

I’ve done all of those things at various times in the past. Never all in the same year, tellingly. Maybe it’s the pull of the longer days and warmer weather that has me wanting to embrace all of these March traditions at once.