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.)

Categories
Life events

I ran a half-marathon!

On Sunday I ran the Dexter-Ann Arbor half marathon (DX-A2)! In my goal time of under two hours (1:56:44) and feeling good.

It all came together: enough training, perfect weather, and good strategy in terms of pace, nutrition, etc. I even got a bib number that was an omen of good fortune: 777. Going into the race, my longest run ever had been 10 miles just a couple weeks earlier. This Sunday was the longest run of my life.

Here I am, barreling toward the finish line.

The Race

It was hard to pick a pace target to aim for. An online calculator suggested that based on some old Turkey Trot 5K times, I could run 13.1 miles in 1:12:00, and I’m more fit now than I was in those races. On the other hand, most of my training mileage was at speeds of 10-10:30 per mile, so it seemed like a stretch to think I could maintain 8:35/mile for two hours. In the end, I shot for the classic target of sub-2 hours, and I’d felt good running big chunks of my long runs at that pace.

I didn’t want to go out too fast and jeopardize my chances of finishing, but it turns out I could have sped up. The race felt surprisingly easy, which felt bizarre then and still feels strange to type. I chatted with one of the 9:00/mi pacers during miles 6-12, agreeing around mile 10 that based on how I felt I should speed up in the last mile. My pace over my last 1.1 miles was more like 8:15/mi, uphill.

I like making new friends and it was fun to pass the time talking with my pacer, Mr. 1820.

I knew this race was a big deal for me, but I was surprised by how many friends and family encouraged me, and how much that meant to me. My wife and kids cheered me at the finish line (“daddy you ran so far, good job!”); my extended family asked questions and gave me props as I trained; my friends at the office and online congratulated me; and tons of strangers along the course shouted encouragement. Especially when I can look at runners who run faster and longer and think, maybe this wasn’t a big deal, it’s validating that friends and family show love.

Categories
Parenting ruminations

Revisiting skateboarding

I’ve been doing a lot of “mental blogging”, no actual blogging, so here’s an attempt to break that and get something written.

Skateboarding is suddenly popular around here. As a family, we watched the 2021 Olympics skateboarding: all of the women’s final and the condensed version of the men’s final. My kids were surprisingly into it. It probably helped that the women’s winners were so young – the gold medalist was just 13 years old.

That got them interested in skating themselves. We purchased a kid’s board last year, during the height of COVID, but it soon got shelved. It was a nice board, too. The one I’d learned on as a teen had low-quality bearings and I could hardly coast on it, which made it a lot less fun. I compensated for that experience by buying my kids a good starter board. It’s out of the garage and rolling again.

Speaking of my experience, I’m interested in skating again, for the first time in twenty years. I dabbled during my teens, logging maybe a couple of dozen hours on skateboard and longboard before giving up. I remember walking to the park in the summer and practicing my ollie by myself. And just not getting it. Between a lack of progress and having no friends who skated, I soon called it quits.

I continued to enjoy the aesthetics of street skating, though. I got most of the way to completing every achievement in the Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 – “considered one of the greatest video games of all time, as well as the highest-rated sports video game” – searing the soundtrack into my brain (“lights out, guerilla radio!”). And I watched skating videos, rarer in the pre-YouTube days. Rodney Mullen was my favorite.

Fast forward two decades and it’s easy to rediscover his highlights. Here’s a nice reel; I’m starting it at my favorite kind of trick, with elegant manuals and grinds on street objects:

Is it too obvious to compare him to a ballet dancer?

All of this has been enough to get me back on a board. I bought one off Craigslist this week along with some safety pads. I’m hopeful that I’ll learn more quickly this time around. I had terrible balance as a kid, but since then I’ve done a ton of cycling and fair amount of snowboarding and skiing, so I think I’ll be better. Plus many years of learning new things has made me wiser and more patient. I’d love to be able to ride well, manual, and (stretch goal) ollie over something small.

We’ll see how it goes. If nothing else I’ll have some fun outdoors with my kids.

Categories
DIY Making Repair

3D-Printed Piece Saves My Cuisinart Food Processor

The utopian vision of 3-D printing and communal knowledge sharing came true this week, in one small instance. For years I’ve loved the idea of 3-D printing a replacement component when some plastic bit snaps in a machine I’m using. Especially when the manufacturer doesn’t sell that widget and intends for you to junk and replace the whole thing. But in practice, I’ve not found myself in a situation where that would be viable…

Until this week. Last year my mother upgraded her food processor and handed me down her previous model, a Cuisinart DFP-14 (DFP-14BCN to be precise). The machine had seen years of hard work and at last, the little plastic interlock piece at the nexus of the complicated safety mechanism broke.

I spent maybe 90 minutes last weekend trying to fix it. This involved cutting a reinforcement plate out of scrap plastic, epoxying it on, and mounting it with a machine screw (part of the plastic housing had shattered, too). I had tried my best but it was not going to last. Here’s the kludge fix at the point where I called it quits:

The black plastic layer is my addition. This won’t hold up for long.
Categories
Gardening Nature Parenting

Sharing and Starting Plants

Today is Earth Day. It may be co-opted by brands posting on social media, but I think it’s still worth celebrating in its original spirit (see Emily Atkin on what Earth Day is supposed to be). I was considering posting about divesting from for-profit banks as a not-obvious but critically-important way to help the planet. I hope to do that, still. But here we are and I haven’t written it, so instead I’ll briefly report and muse about swapping seeds.

Yesterday I hosted an informal seed and seedling swap. It was just three of us, standing around a table in the cold, but it was a blast. One person brought chard seedlings, plus all kinds of seed packets including white corn and tiny cantaloupes. Another shared tomato seeds and seedlings of a family heirloom cultivar that his father has saved and replanted over many years.

After the swap, with plant life on my mind, I dug around in a five-gallon bucket of dirt. It’s a special bucket of dirt: my two-year-old and I filled it in the fall, then gathered acorns and mixed them into the soil. Our experiment was to see if they’d sprout after overwintering outside. And at least one of them has!

It’s rupturing with life! I moved it to its own pot.

Sharing seeds and plants and stories and tips and excitement on a cold spring day left each of us energized about plants and the earth. It renewed my sense of possibility, about plants and how humans are made to help each other. I plan to keep casually swapping seeds this spring and summer and then maybe run this swap again next year, with more planning and advertising to make it bigger. I hope to start seeds indoors next winter to contribute seedlings of my own.

In the meantime, I have a ton of pawpaw seeds on hand that need new homes. I processed dozens of fruits in the fall, setting aside the seeds. They’ve been kept moist and in the fridge all winter to give them their requisite cold hours and now should be ready to sprout when the soil warms up.

Pawpaws are unusual fruit trees, native to Michigan (among other places). The New York Times wrote a couple of stories about them last year. Their seeds are slow to sprout and not the easiest to grow, but I’m taking it on as a challenge.

I also harvested a lot of Red Russian kale seed from my crop last year. I have maybe a thousand seeds left after planting and giving away lots already:

My half-full jar of remaining kale seeds. Think it’s thousand? More? Less?

If you want some pawpaw or kale seed, or want to trade other perennials like sunchoke tubers or prairie dock seeds, drop me a line.

Let’s swap seeds and stories next spring. Happy planting!

Categories
Nature ruminations

Welcome, Brood X Cicadas

Next month, if all goes well, Ann Arbor will be overrun by millions of Magicicada septendecim, the seventeen-year cicada. I am giddy with anticipation.

Why am I so excited? I think the cicadas are arriving at just the right moment in my life, in terms of both time and biophilia.

The timing is fortunate. At 3, 6, and 10 years old, my kids will be old enough to appreciate the insects and still young enough to feel wonder. My oldest is already on board: she amassed a collection of cicada shells from more regular “annual” cicadas that emerged in recent years. The next time these cicadas emerge, my kids will be grown, and I may be an empty nester. My oldest will be the age I was when she was born.

I’ve experienced periodical cicadas twice so far, in both cases Brood XIII in Chicago. I was 6 in 1990 and vaguely remember the insects’ ubiquitous noise and bodies. When that brood resurfaced in 2007, I was 23, and have no memories of cicadas from that year. I lived in a 24th-floor apartment in downtown Chicago – maybe there was too much concrete to support any cicadas. I remember my friend Boyu, who was working in the western Chicago suburbs over the summer, telling stories of brushing his car off before getting in and still ending up with cicadas inside. But for the timing to work, I think that would have been stragglers emerging off-year in 2003, which I would have missed in the city.

Now the reverse is true: I’m in the right part of the state for this year’s Brood X emergence. Much of Michigan will miss the cicadas, but Ann Arbor should be as reliable a place as any to experience them.

This will be my third visit with periodical cicadas. Brood X will next emerge in 2038 (I’ll be 54), 2055 (71), and 2072 (88, if I last that long). After this summer, half of my cicada seasons will be behind me.

The cicadas are also coming at the right time for me to appreciate them. In the last year or two I’ve become more appreciative of, knowledgeable of, in love with the natural world. I’m learning about animals, trees, and as much of life on this wondrous planet as I can, cultivating my biophilia. It blew my mind to learn about oak trees evolving to have mast years, where in some years they sync up and together produce an unusually-large crop of acorns to overwhelm predators. Periodical cicadas have evolved a similar mechanism of using staggered timing to their advantage: when they emerge in such great numbers, predators can’t eat them all.

What an incredible feat of evolution, to lie in wait for seventeen years and emerge in concert! I find that outcome especially neat given that at this point, they only reproduce as often as humans do. When the parents of this year’s Brood X cicadas walked the earth, George W. Bush was still president. They wait so long for just a short couple of months above ground. It reminds me of tree time or rock time, timescales slower than our human experience. This strategy has been slowly optimized over millions of years. What to me is a rare, long-awaited, blog-worthy event is just the next repetition of their experiment.

I feel lucky to be living in the right place and right moment for this event. It’s a six-in-a-lifetime occurrence and I don’t even have to leave my neighborhood to enjoy it. This weekend, I’ll pick up a book on cicadas from the library to prepare myself, and look forward to May and June. May this brood be as thick and deafening as ever.

Categories
#rstats Data analysis ruminations Work

Reflections on five years of the janitor R package

One thing led to another. In early 2016, I was participating in discussions on the #rstats Twitter hashtag, a community for users of the R programming language. There, Andrew Martin and I met and realized we were both R users working in K-12 education. That chance interaction led to me attending a meeting of education data users that April in NYC.

Going through security at LaGuardia for my return flight, I chatted with Chris Haid about data science and R. Chris affirmed that I’d earned the right to call myself a “data scientist.” He also suggested that writing an R package wasn’t anything especially difficult.

My plane home that night was hours late. Fired up and with unexpected free time on my hands, I took a few little helper functions I’d written for data cleaning in R and made my initial commits in assembling them into my first software package, janitor, following Hilary Parker’s how-to guide.

That October, the janitor package was accepted to CRAN, the official public repository of R packages. I celebrated and set a goal of someday attaining 10,000 downloads.

Yesterday janitor logged its one millionth download, wildly exceeding my expectations. I thought I’d take this occasion to crunch some usage numbers and write some reflections. This post is sort of a baby book for the project, almost five years in.

By The Numbers

This chart shows daily downloads since the package’s first CRAN release. The upper line (red) is weekdays, the lower line (green) is weekends. Each vertical line represents a new version published on CRAN.

From the very beginning I was excited to have users, but this chart makes that exciting early usage seem miniscule. janitor’s most substantive updates were published in March 2018, April 2019, and April 2020, with it feeling more done each time, but most user adoption has occurred more recently than that. I guess I didn’t have to worry so much about breaking changes.

Another way to look at the growth is year-over-year downloads:

YearDownloadsRatio vs. Prior Year
2016-1713,284
2017-1847,3043.56x
2018-19161,4113.41x
2019-20397,3902.46x
2020-21 (~5 months)383,5956
Download counts are from the RStudio mirror, which does not represent all R user activity. That said, it’s the only available count and the standard measure of usage.
Categories
DIY How-to Making

Making a wallet out of a bag of chips

I’d liked the idea of making a wallet out of a empty bag of potato chips, but didn’t know how to use a sewing machine. I finally bought one off of Craigslist this winter and am figuring it out. A sewing machine unlocks some projects I’d long been curious about – this is one of them.

I followed the steps from this Instructables guide and it turned out pretty well! I would make this project again. It felt like it dragged on, my 10 year-old helper and I took our time, but if doing this again I could move much faster and complete it in an hour or two. I wonder what the durability of the wallet will be. I plan to use it, so will find out.

It’s fun to think about what part of the design you want on the outside
Categories
ruminations

Plans and aspirations for 2021

Here are some plans and ideas for this year. I’m late, in the sense that this would be a better January post, but no regrets – that’s mostly because I’ve been doing some of this already.

Professional: this is my biggest change in 2021! I left my past job analyzing education data and began this month as a Data Analyst at the City of Ann Arbor. It’s an exciting opportunity: subject matter I’m passionate about, work that will challenge me technically, building new relationships, and heeding the call of public service. And if/when we eventually go back to working in-person, city hall is a short bike ride away.

The change is a big leap in a lot of ways. Two major ones are returning to an individual contributor role after years of managing and shifting from the rhythms of consulting to those of government.

For years I’ve said my dream job was to do municipal data science, like the big teams in NYC or Chicago or Los Angeles, but here in Ann Arbor. This is as close to that dream as it gets, which is pretty incredible. I’m still getting up to speed (yesterday was day 8) but it looks like there’s no end of interesting work to do.

Categories
Books Parenting

Reading the Caldecott Medal Winners

My oldest child turns 10 this month. That means I’ve been reading children’s books for most days over the last decade. Not to her, anymore; now she reads herself Harry Potter. I still read picture books to my 6-year-old and 2-year-old.

I recently realized (a) that most of my children’s book reading is now behind me (b) I like reading these books (c) there must be many great ones I’ve never read. I spend most of my reading time now on children’s books, not grown-up ones. I ought to make the most of these next few years while that remains the case.

To that end I thought I’d start with the Caldecott Medal winners as an easy entry point. I was reading Where the Wild Things Are and A Sick Day for Amos McGee and explaining the gold sticker (Caldecott medal) on the front covers to my youngest and thought: these are great books. The other Caldecott winners are probably good too, right?