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 doingsome 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.
In July I predicted that there would be no in-person instruction for Ann Arbor Public Schools this entire school year. Unfortunately, that prediction is looking accurate. Let’s start planning for September 2021.
The discussion among the district, board, and parents seems focused on reopening this year. At what level of disease activity, and which safety precautions, would be enough for kids to begin going to school? At least, that seemed to be the discussion a month ago, when disease levels were lower and other districts in SE Michigan (including some in Washtenaw County, like Saline and Dexter) were sending kids to school.
Especially with the current COVID surge now shutting down those other districts, it seems likely that reopening this year is not in the cards for Ann Arbor Public Schools. Given that, I fear we’re wasting precious time and energy debating possibilities and metrics for reopening this year. It echoes what happened this summer, when time spent considering possibilities for in-person instruction would have been better used on improving systems for remote instruction.
Today I remember Eyedea, aka Micheal Larsen, who died ten years ago. “Who’s the best rapper ever?” is an unanswerable question, but when it comes specifically to freestyling, Eyedea is the Greatest Of All Time.
As a hip-hop-loving teen in the early 2000s, I traded Eyedea’s mp3s on peer-to-peer sharing services like Napster and KaZaa. He was only two years older than me and yet by 18 he had already vanquished all comers to become the undisputed champion of battle rap. He got bored of battling and moved on, but his freestyles never got old to me. Here are some of my favorites, both battles and whimsical freestyles. If you never heard them, you’re in for a treat. Even a layperson can appreciate the greatest of all time putting on a master class, in anything.
CityPages has a list of five great Eyedea battles, with embedded videos. The first one listed, from HBO’s Blaze Battle tournament in 2000 (which Eyedea won), is a classic. When his opponent starts dancing to distract him, Eyedea immediately builds his final rhymes around that: “this cat wants to be my backup dancer!”
This is the best part of Eyedea’s freestyles: they’re so clearly extemporaneous. So many recordings and appearances billed as “freestyles” are obviously pre-written. No surprise, as even skilled rappers struggle to make up decent rhymes entirely on the fly. Eyedea’s flows are indisputably improvised, as shown by his ability to respond to opponents in battles (and friends in cyphers).
The greatest freestyle session ever recorded is also a settled matter: the 2000 KFAI Orphanage freestyle. Here’s Blueprint’s description of the legendary session, but more importantly here’s the recording: 45 glorious minutes of freestyles, as indie rap icons trade the mic back and forth.
I write this during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. “Sukkot” is the plural of sukkah, the temporary hut that Jews construct for the fall harvest holiday.
I had an epiphany this year: build the sukkah out of buckthorn! Common buckthorn is an aggressive invasive species that plagues the city of Ann Arbor, the state of Michigan, and the Great Lakes region. Since a friend showed me some growing near my house, I notice it everywhere and take pleasure in removing it, as outnumbered as I am in that fight. I’ve cleared it at my previous home in Scio Township, at my in-laws in East Lansing, and now pull it from city parks.
A sukkah needs a roof of s’chach, or cut plant matter. Buckthorn is perfect for this: it’s slender, long, and leafy. In fact, it could do double-duty: it’s ideal for the roof but larger, thicker specimens could also make up the frame of the sukkah (which can be reused from year to year). At the end of Sukkot, the buckthorn can be disposed of in municipal compost carts, where any berries will be destroyed in the heat of the city’s compost piles.
It suddenly seems clear to me that plans for in-person instruction this year are wishful thinking at best and a distraction at worst.
A viable plan for in-person school would require (a) re-imagining how schools operate and (b) additional funding for implementation. The district probably can’t pull off the first on its own and the second is definitely outside its control. In a better world, leadership at the state and federal levels would contribute ideas and funding. In such a world, we might even contain COVID-19 to the point that kids and teachers can return to school without imaginative plans.
But based on the last few months and where things stand now, I bet kids won’t set foot in Ann Arbor Public Schools classrooms this entire school year. Anyone want to wager I’m wrong?
Here’s hoping I can return to this post in coming months and laugh at how foolishly pessimistic I was. But in the meantime, I’ll plan for the worst.
This was a leap-of-faith project during Michigan’s bleak COVID-19 “shelter-in-place” period. I’m documenting it here as a plan for building a hugelkultur bed on a small city lot as well as to preserve a pleasant COVID-19 memory. Behold the thriving hugelkultur mound:
Hugelkulturis a permaculture concept where you pile up organic material (logs, leaves, compost, etc.) and then grow a garden on top of it. Here is a good explanation of hugelkultur and its benefits. It’s also a fun word to say. We refer to our mound as “the hugel” [German for hill].
This was the perfect COVID-19 project. Under lockdown in April, we had nowhere to go. I was spending lots of time with my kids at home during the day. And I wanted to be outside. Building a garden bed with the materials at hand was a small act of protest against the feeling of being dependent on a global supply chain whose fragility had suddenly been exposed. I couldn’t easily get soil or lumber delivered for a conventional raised bed. And crucially, the city’s compost and yard waste collection was about to resume for the spring, so my neighbors had their maximum amount of organic material awaiting disposal.
“Rates of technological progress far outstrip the rate at which human wisdom matures (in the same way that environmental changes outpace evolutionary adaptation in mass extinction events).” – Marcia Bjornerud, Timefulness
The book has a few threads going at once but the bulk of it is a geological history of the world, in a more layperson-friendly format than a textbook. It’s heavy on the science and I learned a great deal of earth science. For instance:
Based on what I hear from cyclists in other cities, Ann Arbor drivers are relatively kind toward bikes. But maybe they woke up on the wrong side of the bed today, as I was harassed twice while dropping my kids off on the way to work.
I hate it. Car-to-bike yelling and honking carries the underlying threat that the driver could, if they wanted, kill you instantly and likely not even face repercussions. You’re alive because they tolerate you. By virtue of their speed and windows, they dictate when an exchange will happen, when it starts, and when it’s done.
When I get harassed, my heart starts racing, I second-guess myself, I stop chit-chatting with my kids. If I was harassed more often I’d be discouraged from riding my bike, and it’s undoubtedly keeping others off their bikes now.
None of that is news. But the two incidents this morning provided a useful contrast and left me slightly hopeful.
Driver #1: I was biking up Seventh Street north of Huron with two kids on the back. There’s decent room to pass here and cars often do, as they’re unable to on the previous block. A man in a pickup pulled up alongside me and drove parallel to me while he shouted, “that’s seriously unsafe, bro!” Then, not sure what else to add: “Seriously unsafe!” and sped off.
I didn’t have a snappy comeback, and don’t have one now. Bike safety is more complicated than a soundbite. My kids and I were quiet. They were rattled like I was. To the extent our trips to school are dangerous, it’s because a man like this could kill us. So it’s disconcerting to hear a warning from him.
I’ll just note here that the underlying issue is Ann Arbor’s terrible transportation infrastructure. We should not have to share a lane with this truck. In fact, the city just last year considered installing a bike lane on this stretch, but decided to use the space for storage of private cars instead. Yeah, the guy shouldn’t yell at me, but the City of Ann Arbor takes the assist on this one. I used to get harassed on North Maple Road, now there’s a buffered bike lane there.
Driver #2: having dropped the kids, I headed inbound on Miller toward downtown. The bike lane was pure ice so I took the lane. A Pontiac Vibe laid on the horn as it passed me – then had to step on the brake as the light at Seventh turned red. I pulled up alongside the car and told the driver, “the bike lane was full of ice so I had to drive in the car lane, sorry.” He rolled down his window, fumbling for words: “Sorry. It’s just hard.” Pause. “I get too pissed off, I’m sorry.” I smiled, and told him no worries, we are all trying to get to work. “Have a great day!”
His contrition buoyed my spirits and offset the incident with the truck. He was a normal human: a decent person on foot and an impatient, unkind one behind the wheel. This near-universal transformation applies to me, too, and it’s been widely acknowledged since before this 1950 Goofy clip, where driving a car transforms him from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde:
I was lucky to catch Driver #2 at the light for this moment of redemption. It left me optimistic about the power of people to get past differences, see each other as humans worthy of respect, and come together – once we log off our devices and get out of our cars.
I’ve been donating blood since I was in high school. My dad is a long-time blood donor, so I started giving because he did. Turns out he donates because his dad, my Grandpa Bill, was a long-time blood donor.
In my early 20s I set a goal to donate the largest feasible volume that was meaningful to me as a homebrewer: a keg. A standard half-barrel keg is half of a barrel (31 gallons), so 15.5 gallons or 124 pints of beer. Or blood.
I donated blood yesterday and checked my stats: 53 units with the Red Cross, plus 10 that I donated with LifeSource during the periods I lived in Chicago. That puts me one unit into the second half of my keg.
For Thanksgiving 2013, I brewed my first Biere de Garde, after discovering the style and then reading Garrett Oliver’s suggestion that it’s the perfect pairing for the holiday feast. My brew was a hit. At Thanksgiving 2019, we drank the final bottle from that batch.
Friday we drank another final bottle that had been lurking in my cellar, an Eisbock brewed in 2013. Even as many obscure beer styles are pioneered or revitalized in the homebrewing community and then are taken to the public by mainstream craft breweries, Eisbock remains relatively unknown. I expect this is due to the fact that freeze-concentrating beer, at a production scale, would require specialized equipment that most breweries won’t acquire.
Then yesterday we drank the final bottle of a 2011 smoked porter (excellent) and one of the last few of a 2015 smoked porter (one-dimensional).
It may be a stretch to call homebrew art; I see it as more of a craft. Art or craft, it’s something that can only be experienced a finite number of times. The act of tasting it simultaneously depletes it.