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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.

Categories
DIY How-to Making Nature

Making a coat rack from a buckthorn log

This project hit many of my interests:

  • Eliminating buckthorn, a nasty invasive species
  • Reuse / making things from leftovers
  • Amateur woodworking
  • Contributing to Workantile, the co-working community I’m a part of

It turned out nicely. Here’s a writeup and some photos.

The rack

It started when I was biking home with groceries from Meijer and encountered a big pile of buckthorn by the side of the road, culled from Greenview Nature Area and awaiting pickup for composting. The biggest trunk was a decent sized log. The bike was already heavily laden but fortunately, a log is a different shape than grocery bags so I found a spot for it:

a log on a bike
This was surprisingly easy to haul

For a while I’d been interested in woodworking with found wood, especially buckthorn. I take pleasure in removing it and would enjoy that even more if I could turn it into things. I asked my friend and de facto woodworking coach Chris how I should go about processing logs. Buy a bandsaw? Build one of those circular-saw-converted-to-chainsaw DIY mills I saw on YouTube? Both seemed excessive.

Categories
Climate change Imagine A World Someday

Planning for a Heat Pump Furnace in Michigan

Our gas furnace has been loud for a while, and getting louder. We got a furnace check-up this fall and the technician said, that noise is your inducer motor. They fail often on these furnaces and your furnace is old. Sounds like yours is on its way out.

I started researching electric replacements for gas furnaces, i.e., heat pumps. That picked up in early January, when my friend George sent me the hot-off-the-press guide from Rewiring America, Electrify Everything In Your Home.

The day after I started reading it, I woke up to a chilly home. The inducer motor had failed.

Categories
Writing

I completed NaNoWriMo 2021 – but my story’s not done

The last time I sat down at the blog it was to declare that I was going to attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in November. Since then I’ve written a lot, just not here. To be precise, I met the NaNo word goal a day early and finished the month with 51,553 words in my story, writing substantially on each of November’s thirty days.

It was a blast! The story has tumbled out. At times I feel like I’m reading it as it materializes in front of me. It will definitely need editing, but I think I was right about having an interesting plot, and my prose has not been as wretched as I feared it might be. I type fast and my natural tendency is to be wordy in both my speech and writing, so NaNo let me play to my strengths and pile up the words.

(There is a metaphor that makes the rounds in NaNo circles along the lines of, writing your book is like building a sandcastle. The first draft is digging up the sand to work with. Don’t worry about the quality yet, just get it out so you can shape it as you revise.)

Lessons learned include:

  • The targets and progress tracking were hugely motivating. This, plus talking with people about what I was doing, was the magic of NaNo.
  • I’d thought dialogue would be hard to write. Turns out it flows much better for me than descriptions of scenery.
  • Beginning with an outline that described 25+ chapters was essential. Once a good idea for a chapter was in place I was comfortable telling its story in detail.
  • Many of these ideas and plot points occurred when I was walking my dog and would tell her the story. Now if I get something juicy, I take care to dictate to my phone so there’s no risk of forgetting it.
  • I had success with an old digital typewriter (an AlphaSmart Neo) I’d had lying around. I wrote everything on there, transferring it to a computer later. The featurelessness of the Neo deterred me from editing, which kept my words flowing, and it entirely blocked me from getting distracted by the internet.

Despite having 50,000 words, I’m not done writing my story. I want to finish it, in part because I want to know how it ends! (I know the general ending, but want to know the details I’ll only think of while writing).

I’m guessing I’m three-quarters done with the story and I fear that if I take a day off, I’ll lose steam. So I’m going to continue writing, setting a target of averaging 1,000 words a day for the first half of December. That would take me to 67k, which might be enough.

I guess if I’m not done at that point, I’ll keep going. During NaNo I averaged 1,700 words per day. Sometimes that was difficult, and I relied on a few vacation days where I racked up several thousand. But averaging 1,000 per day feels sustainable.

Then I’ll take a little break before I come back and re-read what I’ve written. Editing will be a whole ‘nother ordeal. But that’s for later. For now, here’s to my story – it ended up drawing on many of my interests, experiences, and dreams, and it’s a weird little story no one else could have written, for better and for worse.

P.S.: I typically edit blog posts for a while without making them better. One lesson I hope I’ve learned from NaNo is to rein that tendency in. So this post gets merely a quick read-through.

Categories
Someday Writing

Let’s write a novel this November

For the longest time, I wanted to write a book. My “bucket list” evolved over my teenage years and adulthood, but this item stayed constant. Eventually, I removed it, for two reasons. I didn’t feel I had material worth writing about and even if I did, my prose would fall short.

This year, I finally had an idea for a story worth telling. The smallest seed for it was planted a few years ago, as a book someone should write. I kept turning the idea over, growing it slowly. Then I had a breakthrough this summer during a chat with my ten-year-old – we settled on the main character’s quest and her path to victory. The plot is genuinely compelling (in my eyes) and while it’s not my personal story, it’s a mix of settings that I have a bit of familiarity with.

Soon I had my eye on National Novel Writing Month, “NaNoWriMo,” which begins in a month. The timing was great: I could sit with my story in September and October and see whether I lose interest or stick with it and keep plotting the story and characters. So far it’s been the latter. So I’m signed up and planning to give it my best shot! The goal is 50,000 words in 30 days. I’m not sure how long my story might get once I unspool it, but my guess is that 50k words could be enough to tell it all. I have read a few books of ~200 pages this year and it’s a nice snappy length, so that’s my current vision.

I would love to talk NaNoWriMo with others as it approaches and gets underway. Anyone out there want to take the plunge with me this year? Everyone else: if I stick with this you might see less from me as I put my extra energy into the book.

I’m still not sure my writing will be any good – I’m a rank amateur. But I’ll have fun telling the story I’ve dreamt up so even if the result is lousy, I’ll have enjoyed myself and the experience of taking on this challenge. And I can check it off my list.

The biggest challenge I foresee right now is not editing. The idea with NaNoWriMo is to pump out a draft as fast as possible and hit the word count. Then you go back and edit it in future months. When I write here and professionally, I spend more time editing (on the fly and afterward) than I do writing. I’m not sure it always improves my writing, and it slows my blogging down considerably. So perhaps if I can embrace the NaNoWriMo mode of write-without-editing, it’ll lead to more blog posts in the future. Time for me to stop re-reading and publish this post!

Categories
Climate change Parenting

Fight climate change, put your kid’s allowance at a credit union

I received this piece of mail from Chase and it reminded me to finish this blog post, which I started on Earth Day 2021:

Devious mail from the world’s dirtiest bank


It’s well-established that one of the best ways to fight climate change is by divesting from the big banks that fund fossil fuel projects. HEATED’s list of “How to Move Beyond Recycling” includes “Divest your personal assets from fossil fuels.” The more money you can move away from them, the better, though every account closure is important. Moving money can be tedious, though, since you need to redo all your bill payment information and do lots of paperwork like an adult.

What you can start and finish in a single afternoon is to get your child off to a good start by opening an account for them at a credit union or other institution that does not fund fossil fuel projects. (The HEATED link above has info about how to find one for you, a credit union near you is a good bet.) Then inertia will be on the side of good: the more banking they do at their first institution, the more likely it is that their future earnings will not be used to finance fossil fuel projects that will make their world more ghastly and unsafe. Big banks are wise to how powerful this move is; that’s why they sent me that mailer, hoping to get their hooks into my kids.

I got that mail because I used to bank at Chase and haven’t yet closed my account. JP Morgan Chase is “by far the worst banker of fossil fuels and fossil fuel expansion” (Forbes concurs). I’ve been moving my money away from Chase for years now. In my case, I’ve moved my checking and savings to Lake Trust Credit Union. I’ve also given up my Capital One rewards card for a Lake Trust credit card, and when I refinanced my mortgage I moved from a private bank to Mortgage Center, which is owned by credit unions including Lake Trust.

Lake Trust does not have investors, it does not make a profit, and it does not fund fossil fuel infrastructure (in response to my inquiry, they replied, “The Lake Trust investment portfolio does not hold any corporate bonds in fossil fuel companies.”)

Doing all of that paperwork and changing all of my billing information has been tedious and slow. I got the idea to change banks during Occupy Wall Street, which began ten years ago this month, and I still need to finish closing my mostly-unused Chase and Capital One accounts.

But opening accounts for my kids at my local credit union? Easy. The kids biked over there, poured a bunch of change into the coin counting machine, and were given stickers and hot chocolate. Now I manage their allowances and purchases through transfers in the Lake Trust app. This was much easier than moving my own money has been, and climate-wise should be a great return on my time.

Open an account for your kid at a credit union now, even if you haven’t moved your own money over yet. That will put inertia on the side of good, while also normalizing for them that they should belong to a credit union. And if you need to open an account for yourself to do so? Bonus! You’ve taken the first step on your own longer but important journey.

(Standard disclaimer that individual actions will not solve the climate crisis on their own, we need systemic change, etc. – of course. This is part of a mass divestment movement and this blog post, my action, and your action are all part of that.)


Update October 2021: I finished divesting from my Capital One credit card and closed it today!

I won’t be bought for 1.5% cash back