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Trevor Stone's Journal
Those who can, do. The rest hyperlink.
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Trevor Stone Character
After more than fifteen years of loyal LiveJournal use, I have switched to Dreamwidth as my primary blogging site. All of my LiveJournal entries have been migrated to flwyd.dreamwidth.org. They remain public on flwyd.livejournal.com as well, so as not to break any links. I will continue crossposting from Dreamwidth to LiveJournal until LJ blocks it, or until the site owners do something egregious with regards to user content.

Shout out to brad and everyone else who helped make LiveJournal a fantastic social network before "social network" was a thing. The most important asset of a site like this is the users and their willingness to share with each other. Over the last decade, a lot of user attention has drifted to other platforms. The management (now headquartered in Russia) has also focused on writers of the Cyrillic persuasion and Russians in particular, burning the trust of the Anglophone user base.

While all good things will come to an end, this blog has several years to go in its new home. Subscribe to my journal on Dreamwidth or with your favorite RSS reader. You can also find me on my website, Twitter, and Google+. Keep sharing!
4th-Jun-2018 11:34 pm - The Plural of Anecdote is not Data
mathnet - to cogitate and to solve
Some days, I feel like my strongest skill is the ability to stare at a bunch of data and go "Hey, here's something interesting…"

This entry was originally posted at https://flwyd.dreamwidth.org/382225.html – comment over there.

2nd-Jun-2018 11:41 pm - Can I Hear You Now?
intense aztec drummer DNC 2008
A couple weeks ago I had a really stick neck, tightness in my jaw, and pain in my ear. I'm certain that all three of these were related, but I'm not sure which was causative. I'd spent a long weekend in a hot spring at the end of April, and my right ear had felt like it had water in it for a while after that, so I figured that might be involved.

After a difficult day at work due to on-and-off headaches due to the ear pain, I put hydrogen peroxide - urea drops in my ears and irrigated with a bulb. This had been the prescription 5ish years ago when I had some persistent ringing in my ears and an overabundance of earwax flushed out by a PA at my doctor's office. It had also worked wonders on my trip to California in February when my ears felt clogged, the pressure changes on the plane were intense, and I had trouble focusing in an all-day meeting because of headaches coming and going and noticeable tightness in my neck muscles.

The drops and irrigation seemed to help for a couple days, then two weeks ago Friday the dull headache quickly shifted into a "You will devote almost all of your attention to the sharp pain in the left side of your head." My task on Friday is reading interview packets and then participating in hiring committee. After struggling through the first packet I realized that there was no way I would be able to make it through another four hours of reading and talking with this level of pain, so I called my doctor's office and asked the meeting coordinator to hand off my other packets.

At the doctor's office, I rated my pain an 8 out of 10. An NP inspected my ears and irrigated with a fancy bottle and warm water, which was more effective than the bulb dropper. A rather large chunk of goo came out of my left ear, and after sitting still for a moment to readjust my balance I felt major relief, right back down to a 2 or so on the pain scale. She recommended using the hydrogen peroxide drops for 3–5 days to get residual wax out and I biked home. I felt so good when I got home that I messaged the coordinator and said "Hey, I can read again, can you give me a packet back?" In my history of injury and illness It's very rare that a treatment takes effect that immediately; even the morphine I got when I broke my arm took longer to kick in, and didn't dial things down that far.

The next day I had another intense ear headache after several hours playing Magic and sadly opted not to go out to see Godspeed You Black Emperor!, since the artful amplified distortion of post-rock didn't seem like a great idea when your ears already hurt. Back home to lie in bed with peroxide making popping sounds as it combats wax.

I didn't have any more sharp pain, but over the next several days my ears felt pretty clogged. At first I figured this was residual ear wax, but fingers and Q-tips weren't pulling much wax out. I have the perk of being married to an NP; Kelly looked in my ears with her otoscope and noted that she couldn't see my ear drums, but everything looked pretty inflamed. I called the doctor's office and got in to see another NP who confirmed that it didn't look like wax, but wasn't sure just what to do. Hypothesizing that it was bacterial, she prescribed ciprofloxacin drops in each ear twice a day (possibly to be combined with Flonaze to combat inflammation), then come back for another irrigation.

Cipro ear drops are apparently an infrequently used medicine. My usual King Soopers pharmacy didn't have any, and sent me to the Louisville location. After a day of taking the drops I realized there were only 14 dropperettes in the package, which only covers half a week for two ears twice a day. I called the pharmacy to get a refill, which led to a multi-hour adventure wherein I learned (a) the insurance company didn't want to authorize it, because the refill date was for after a week and (b) I'd apparently gotten the only box of this medicine at any King Soopers in the Denver area. Oh, and hey, it's Memorial Day weekend, so good luck ordering anything. Fortunately, these are solvable problems. I think the pharmacist was able to convince the insurance company that I'd only received a half-week dose (since apparently people usually only get an infection in one ear). The on-call doctor called in a "Yeah, totally get more of that" prescription, too. (And apparently King Soopers had a coupon that would've made the drug cheaper than going through insurance, if they'd had any in stock.) After a couple calls I found a Wallgreens that had a box in stock and they were able to transfer the prescription from King Soopers.

Ordinarily I would take the position "I'll just skip this drug on Memorial Day and get it sorted out on Tuesday and it doesn't seem to be making that big of a difference anyway." But stopping an antibiotic half-way through isn't usually a good idea, and "a colony of drug-resistant bacteria in your ears" is not an attractive idea when you've just spent two weeks having aural discomfort.

Through Memorial Day, I'd generally had one ear or the other clear enough to hear conversations accurately, though I didn't have great spatial localization and I could tell I wasn't getting the full spectrum from music. Starting Tuesday, both ears felt very clogged almost all of the time; I could have a conversation, but only if I positioned myself strategically and the other person spoke up. Assuming that this was just buildup of ear drops and inflammation residue, I eagerly awaited my followup appointment for irrigation.

On Thursday, the NP looked in my ears again and pulled out a black chunk and inspected it. She concluded that it wasn't ear wax and that the antibiotic treatment hadn't solved the problem, so I should go see an ENT. I called around and found that there was an appointment early (for me) on Friday morning, as luck would have it.

I set my alarm the night before, but it didn't go off because I'd set up my clock off by 12 hours when I moved in. Oops. Fortunately, Kelly gets up early for work anyway, so she asked me "When's your appointment again?" early enough that I could do the morning gig and get to the appointment.

I really should've headed to the ENT rather than my primary care office after the first round of treatment didn't solve the whole problem. They've got a whole bunch of fancy ear tools, including long tweezers that go through the otoscope and a device that amounts to an ear vacuum. She quickly concluded that the big black hunks of goo in my ears were fungal, which clearly explains the ineffectiveness of my week of antibiotics. After removing large chunks she sprayed white antifungal powder in my ears and told me to keep them dry. Now that's something I've never had before :-)

I asked if my psoriatic arthritis might have played a role in this ear inflammation and debris buildup. The PA said that psoriasis can lead to ear issues, but that my case didn't look related. That's definitely a relief, because I was really not looking forward to my ears pulling my neck and screaming at my brain as a chronic condition.

So for the last day and a half, my left ear has been refreshingly clear and able to hear while my right ear has been ringing (though not as loudly as it was) and has reduced hearing capacity but gracefully no pain. My neck, shoulders, and jaw have also been refreshingly loose today. I've got a followup on Wednesday before I head to Apogaea where the PA will clean up the antifungal powder and take another look. Hopefully this ringing is just a little more debris stuck to the drum.

This entry was originally posted at https://flwyd.dreamwidth.org/382193.html – comment over there.

1895 Colorado map
Dear Senator (Gardner | Bennet),

Thank you for introducing the bipartisan FARMERS FIRST Act to help ensure that agricultural workers have access to mental health care. Farming is both physically and emotionally taxing and the year-to-year risks that agricultural producers face can bring emotional stress to the breaking point.

As Colorado, and the world, grows warmer, the effects of climate change will further compound the physical and mental stresses on farmers in the state. First, heat waves are correlated with an increase in negative mental health events and acts of aggression and violence. Second, we have already experienced more frequent extreme weather events and greater variation in surface water availability due to increased temperatures, reduced snowpack, and less predictable precipitation. These factors are likely to increase the risk of crop failures, putting farms and farmers at risk. Third, the long-term effects of a warmer climate like earlier seasonal onset, warmer diurnal temperatures, and insect infestations (like the pine beetle unchecked by cold winters) will force many farmers to abandon crops they have grown for generations.

Fortunately, we have an opportunity to put the breaks on climate change and keep temperatures from running away faster than we can adapt. Climate change legislation should be one of Congress’s top priorities this year and next, and Colorado’s interests should be represented as bills are crafted. I urge you to take action in at least the following two ways.

First, please ensure programs to address climate change are part of the 2018 Farm Bill. Agriculture is on the front lines of climate change and agricultural producers have some of the best opportunities to make a meaningful difference in greenhouse gasses. Congress should sponsor research, development, and experimentation of ag practices which can sequester carbon, reduce methane, increase yields, and save money on inputs. Congress should also find ways to incentivize expanding America’s great forests: it’s hard to find a more effective way to remove carbon dioxide from the air than trees.

Second, I urge you to cosponsor a bill enacting a market-based climate change solution like carbon fee and dividend. A national program to price the externalities of greenhouse gas emissions is likely the most effective action that we can take to keep the climate stable and avoid major disruption to daily life that we risk with unchecked global warming. A price on carbon would spur American innovation, create clean energy jobs, and improve our quality of life.

Thank you for your consideration of this matter and your dedicated service to Colorado,
Trevor Stone

This entry was originally posted at https://flwyd.dreamwidth.org/381879.html – comment over there.

24th-Apr-2018 12:16 am - Close Enough for Government Work
spencer hot springs feet
While poking through papers the previous homeowners left, I noticed the well permit change of address form with a sticky note saying to check the website in a few weeks. So I poked around the Division of Water Resources website and found the document history for our well permit.

Except… the dates looked a little funny, relative to the construction of the house. And then I noticed that the address on the original permit is down the block, where the north-south street bends into my east-west street. "Huh, did that person own two houses on the same block?" I wondered. So I poked around the County Recorder's website (and used Chrome developer tools to make the document viewer useful). The names didn't line up either.

Then I took a closer look at the well permit's legal description. "Lot 5, block 8, Country Club Park." Isn't that my legal description? I checked the assessor's website again. Oh, wait, I'm (part of) "Lot 5, block 8, Country Club Park Partial Replat." Totally different numbering lot sequence! But Block 8 is still contiguous. And someone at the State probably didn't know the finer points of Boulder County subdivision plats, so they saw "Lot 5, block 8, Country Club Park" and matched 'em up. I wonder if our neighbors have a record of their well permit. I'm not sure how much I care about fixing this.

Other fun discoveries from the plat maps:
  • Our subdivision was planned to have two parks (one surrounded by "Meadow Drive," the other by "Parkway Drive," natch). It currently has zero parks, and the Parkway Drive park is an island of six houses.
  • This stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue was to be called Redwood Avenue, but I guess that ran into trouble when they got to "R" in the alphabetical tree-themed street names zone in north Boulder.
  • 55th Street was called "Roxwood Road," which seems an odd choice for a straight north-south thoroughfare in a town with a numbered north-south grid.
  • The original plat had a row of houses with driveways along Baseline. They would not have enjoyed commuting or throwing parties.

    This entry was originally posted at https://flwyd.dreamwidth.org/381627.html – comment over there.

5th-Apr-2018 11:46 pm - Direct Marketing Fail
spam lite
Today I received a glossy mailing from a real estate agent addressed to the folks who sold us their house a month ago. The flyer starts "Selling a home in East Boulder requires extensive local knowledge, a great marketing plan, and superior negotiation skills." It then lists several houses currently for sale or under contract. Finally it lists five recently sold houses… including the one we just bought.

This entry was originally posted at https://flwyd.dreamwidth.org/381294.html – comment over there.

rose red sky blue
The timing of the whole house buying process has worked out exquisitely.

For awhile we've been talking about buying a house this spring. Last year we let our landlord know that we'd like to go month-to-month when our lease was up. But since the purchase process was really smooth, we didn't need it. We're officially moved out of Lucky Gin, and it's approximately as clean as it was when we moved in.

We smartly gave ourselves a month to move, closing on the house on the first Monday of March. That provided a weekend for moving essentials and compactly stacking boxed media, a weekend for friends and family and several large vehicles, a weekend for professional movers to pick up the heavy and/or bulky, and a week and a Saturday for all the random things that have somehow escaped packing, discarding 3-year-old containers hiding in the fridge, and extensive cleaning.

Smooth timing was a theme in the house search process, too. The first two open house we tried to go to were closed. The first one we successfully visited was super fun and we got a good vibe from the seller's realtors. We met with those two at the beginning of the year and decided to "go out with them" for a while. And although I was prepared to spend months to a year looking for a house that met our needs, timing lucked out such that we bought a house that we saw on the second weekend of outings. Total time between purchasing Buying Your First Home and actually buying our first home: less than three months.

Another timing irony, or manifestation if you prefer: for several years I had a bunch of money in a money market account rather than a higher-interest CD because I was usually in a state of "Maybe next year will be the time to buy a house." In early 2017 I decided that pattern was clearly silly, so I poked around and found that I was eligible for a credit union with a 1% APR 1-year CD and figured one year would be a good time for a house purchase, relative to the lease schedule. Getting the account set up and money moved in took a week or two longer than I expected, so the maturity date was March 8th, a bit later in the year than I was hoping. But as luck would have it, the house cost a couple hundred thousand dollars less than I was expecting to pay, so I didn't have to use any of the money from the CD. The kicker, of course, is that a couple months after I opened the CD, the savings account's interest rate increased such that I would've made more money by keeping it totally liquid.

Fortunately, we now never* need to move again.
Well, except moving all the stuff in the garage (there's a single-human-width path down the middle) into the house, unboxing it, and moving the items destined for a garage sale back into the garage.

Some people think it's a great idea to have a yard sale before you move. I disagree: when there's a deadline on the move, it takes much less time to pack items without evaluating them, and you save on the time and stress of having all the unwanted items identified by a Saturday that you could use schlepping boxes instead. It seems much less stressful to carefully consider an item fetched from the garage, figure out how it might fit into a new space, and not announce a sale until all of the unnecessary items have accumulated.

* Well, until it's time to retire to Moloka'i or move into an ALF.

This entry was originally posted at https://flwyd.dreamwidth.org/381105.html – comment over there.

28th-Feb-2018 10:56 pm - Getting Wired for a Transfer
currency symbols
On Monday we're signing a bunch of documents and an escrow company will move a whole bunch of money around between accounts and we're going to move some essentials into a house and change the locks.

I would feel significantly less nervous about this if I'd received final amounts and money wiring instructions by now. I usually assume that data networks between banks are made of molasses, so moving a few bytes from one bank to another takes two days and COBOL code doesn't run on weekends. So I've had over a quarter million dollars sitting around in a couple accounts for a month and I'm getting nervous, because moving $250,000 from place to place is a lot harder than moving $25.

This entry was originally posted at https://flwyd.dreamwidth.org/380719.html – comment over there.

7th-Feb-2018 10:20 pm - FAQ Tells it Like it Is
bad decision dinosaur
From Answers to Questions About the National Flood Insurance Program
Q. Does my Homeowner Policy cover flood damage?
A. Your Homeowners Insurance does not cover floods. Floods can happen anytime, anywhere. They cause physical, emotional, and financial anguish especially when victims realize the damage is not covered by their homeowner’s insurance policy.

Insurance documents aren’t normally the place to turn for zingers.

This entry was originally posted at https://flwyd.dreamwidth.org/380585.html – comment over there.

4th-Feb-2018 08:46 pm - Coconut Porter
Vigelandsparken circle man
When we were in Maui last October, Maui Brewing Company had a limited-edition Imperial Coconut Porter on tap that was blissfully delicious and at least twice as wonderful as their usual coconut porter. The ICP was so good that it tasted like coffee and I liked that about it. It also tasted like chocolate and coconut and several other things if you held it on your tongue long enough.

I'd been wanting to try brewing a dark beer this winter and after that heavenly taste I determined to make a coconut porter. I had no illusions that it would be as wonderful as the one from Maui, but anywhere in that ballpark should be tasty.

I poked around the Internet to get a sense of the ingredients that other folks used in coconut porters and then went to the friendly local homebrew store. I didn't have a planned recipe, so I spent probably ten minutes smelling tubs of dry malt and imagining their combined flavor. I ended up with a pound of chocolate malt (600–700°L), half a pound of 80°L crystal malt, half a pound of flaked oats, and four pounds of "golden light" liquid malt extract. (°L is a measure of color. I described the wort as "dark chocolate" and the final brew as "light black.") I stopped by Whole Foods for two pounds of flaked coconut and twelve ounces of honey which I managed to spill on the bulk food scale and then improperly label with a PLU code.

I'd been planning to add a pound of blackstrap molasses as well to add some more dark sugar to the mix. And when I was gathering ingredients for the wort I noticed that I'd had a jar of carob molasses sitting around that I bought over a year ago, figuring I'd use it in some kind of beer. It's dark and sweet, so in it goes!

After primary fermentation I racked the beer into a glass carboy and then dumped in roasted coconut flakes through a funnel. It turned out that 5 gallons of beer plus two pounds of flakes doesn't leave much headroom in a 5-gal carboy. In the first hour I watched the wet coconut push dangerously far up the neck of the glass. Remembering stories of exploding carboys when a brew gets up to the seal, I used the thief to draw out some liquid on the inside and coconut stuck to the outside. The next morning I woke to find chocolate-covered beer pushing up through the airlock and spilling onto the table. I was actually relieved by that state, since it didn't involve explosive glass shards. The mouth of a carboy is, unfortunately, narrower than a spoon, so the best tool I could find was a metal kebab skewer which I used to move some coconut mass around and open up air pathways.

Fortunately the secondary fermentation wasn't very active, so I didn't have to reengage with battle with the coconut monster until bottling. With about two gallons left in the carboy, we were suspicious that the syphon would get surrounded by coconut gunk and leave stranded beer. We poured from the carboy through a strainer into a pot, which was remarkably effective. We got a nice bowl of alcoholic coconut to much on, a fairly sediment-free final syphoning, and a carboy plastered with coconut:
[Dark beer and a messy carboy full of coconut flakes]
The rest of bottling was mostly uneventful until small coconut flakes clogged up the bottling wand with about three bottles worth of beer left. I tried switching to the pinch-the-hose technique which is harder than it sounds and ended up with a decent amount of beer on the floor. (I don't think I've had a bottling evening that didn't end up with alcohol on the floor. Our dining room is blessed.) I did have the presence of mind to use the hose's position relative to the syphon point to stop and start flow, which was sufficient to fill a bottle or so.

Also, the plastic bottle tree I got from a coworker makes the bottle drying and at-hand-for-filling really slick:
[Drying tree full of bottles]

Ingredient list:
5 gal Water
4 lbs CBW Golden Light liquid malt extract
1 lbs Crisp Malting chocolate malt 600-700L
8 oz flaked oats
8.5 oz Briess Malting caramel/crystal malt 80L
12 oz Colorado honey
1.3 lbs Plantation blackstrap unsulphured molasses
1.5 lbs Al Wadi Al Akhdar carob molasses
1 oz northern brewer hops
1 oz santiam hops
0.25 tsp Irish moss
2 lbs roasted flaked coconut
White Labs WLP80 cream ale yeast blend

The friend who helped me bottle declared that it tasted like "tart coconut." I'm very pleased with the coconut presence (though a pound would've made for less mess and still plenty of taste). There's a good dark malt flavor, though I don't taste a lot of chocolate, coffee, or other notes. It's not bitter yet also not very sweet.

Anon, anon! I pray you, remember the porter.

This entry was originally posted at https://flwyd.dreamwidth.org/380293.html – comment over there.

31st-Jan-2018 11:43 pm - Weeks of Adulting Responsibly
Vigelandsparken face to face
I started a more narrative version of this post, but got pulled into adulting matters instead, so here's the bullet points of what I've been up to for the last month and a half.
  • Writing a document with what we requirements, preferences, and perks we'd want in a house
  • Reading about the process of buying a house
  • Looking at houses on real estate websites
  • Pre-applying for a loan up to a million dollars
  • Going to open houses
  • Remembering that my passport was about to expire; renewing it
  • Not buying literally the first house we looked at, even though it was really fun and in a great spot
  • Getting a code volunteer oriented to the Ranger software system
  • Celebrating holidays with family and friends
  • Sorting out a new PHP framework because the original new fancy framework we were going to use for the Ranger system is deprecated
  • Moving back to my old office building, unsubscribing from old team mailing lists, stumbling my way through Android codelabs
  • Meeting with potential buyers' realtors
  • Meeting with an elder law attorney to help my parents develop an estate plan
  • Receiving my passport in just two weeks, before the government could shut down
  • Looking at houses with realtors
  • Looking at more houses on the internet; not being able to sleep due to imagining living in a particular interesting house
  • Making spreadsheets of house price, down payment, and monthly cost scenarios
  • Looking at more houses with realtors
  • Studying the Boulder County floodplain maps
  • Reading a real estate contract
  • Making an offer on a house that meets almost all of our desires except "not in a floodplain"
  • Buying a pie to celebrate offer acceptance
  • Writing a $20,000 check for escrow
  • Awkwardly knocking on future neighbors' doors and saying hello
  • Reading legal documents
  • Reading loan documents
  • Signing loan documents
  • Getting quotes for hazard and flood insurance
  • Having a kickoff meeting for further adventures in climate outreach
  • Observing a home inspector poke and prod at a house, crawling around in two fairly comfortable crawl spaces
  • Reading inspection findings
  • Leafing through a homeowner's well-organized invoices
  • Reminding my mom to send life insurance details to the attorney
The next two months look pretty adulty, too.

This entry was originally posted at https://flwyd.dreamwidth.org/380125.html – comment over there.

31st-Dec-2017 12:32 pm - New Year, New Team
raven temple of moon
November 30th was my 8th Googleversary. 8 years is longer than my direct involvement with any other institution, beating my 7½ years at CU and 6 years at Uni Hill. In that time, the Boulder office has grown from around 150 people to more than 700 and my team has grown from a couple rows of cubicles of folks working on the "Google Docs document list" to more than 150 people working on Google Drive in Boulder, plus folks in Los Angeles and New York, and taking a whole floor of the new Pearl Place office. In that time I've worked on adding video support, a server for file viewing, a pipeline to make corpus stats queryable, the new web UI and server, adoption of a new Google framework that standardizes server development and production, migrating and turning down a legacy server, and a not-yet-announced feature to help certain enterprise business processes. "Ask Trevor, he knows everything" has been said by at least one colleague. This isn't the first time I've had wide breadth of impact: I got a "Many hats (literal and figurative)" award when I was an RA in college and I had a hand in almost all pieces of our software products at Tyler-Eagle.

This also marks close to 14 years working on, broadly, enterprise file and content management. While I enjoy helping organizations be more efficient and like wrangling and organizing lots of data (see also: my family's bookshelves), there are other software domains that I'd like to focus on. When I joined Google I figured I'd work on my project for a couple years and then switch to something else and learn something new, ideally working with maps or natural language. The Boulder office has had a geo team since Google first acquired SketchUp yet the team hasn't grown much until now. As of the beginning of 2018 I'll be working with the Street View team to help organize knowledge of the physical world.

When I was sick in 2016, one of the goals I set for my healthy self was to spend more time reading books and making maps. My dissatisfaction with the American political process meant that I ended up shifting my hobby focus from cartography to conversations about climate change and systemic risk. Moving to a geo team at work helps me keep that make-maps promise to myself. And the Street View team is a nice fit given my years spent carefully geotagging all the photos I take while exploring the world. I'm excited about the opportunity to learn geographic data models, image processing, mobile development, and user experience thinking for people navigating the world.

There's an amusing wrinkle in the timing of this team switch. The new Pearl Place campus opened at the beginning of December, so I packed up and moved to the 3rd floor with the rest of the Drive team. The geo team will be on the 2nd floor of the building, which isn't finished yet (as is often the case, Google's growth outpaced expectations when we were planning the building project). So this week I moved back to the old building again with the other left behinds and will move once more in February. Four desks in the span of three months: now that's agile.

The new building is a great place for googling. The desk areas are very open, which I like since it allows for quick collaboration and "hallway conversations." The building also has a lot of areas where folks can retreat for more quiet and focus, including a library with a great view, a nook behind a Hobbit door, and a "hanging lounge." There are also a lot of good social spaces out of earshot of folks' desks and spaces to switch mental gears including a rock climbing cave, a bike workshop, a music room, a giant Google Earth display, and a couple pinball and video game machines. The café on the fourth floor faces the mountains with floor-to-ceiling windows, meaning the kitchen staff get the best view in the place. This is pretty unique: in most buildings, the kitchen has no view whatsoever or maybe has a small window to an alley.

Have a happy new year and may you find your own opportunities for personal growth in 2018!

This entry was originally posted at https://flwyd.dreamwidth.org/379836.html – comment over there.

19th-Nov-2017 09:35 pm - Adventures in Climate Lobbying
1895 USA map
Last week I joined over 600 other Citizens Climate Lobby volunteers for the annual Congressional Education Day. CCL's main lobby day occurs in June, when we meet with over 500 offices of Representatives, Senators, and Delegates to discuss our proposal for a revenue-neutral carbon fee and dividend with border adjustments. The organization's Legislative Director, Danny Richter, then analyzes all of the meeting notes and identifies topics brought up by members and their staffs. For both Democrats and Republicans this year, the top topic was the Climate Solutions Caucus while the second and third topics for Republican offices were jobs and the border adjustment while Democratic offices talked about the Paris accord, jobs, and the dividend. In November, CCL volunteers pay their way to Washington again to share those results, letting congressional offices know how other offices have been responding to our proposal. CCL leaders say they're not aware of any other group that meets with approximately every office in one day nor of one which can then share aggregate results of Hill-wide behind-closed-door meetings.

One of the most promising findings in this year's analysis is the degree to which GOP offices are engaged in our conversations. For the past four years, Dr. Richter has recorded the staff or member engagement level with CCL volunteers. Tier 1 covers meetings where staff showed genuine interest; Tier 2 meetings had quiet but not uninterested staff, and Tier 3 represents meetings where staff were either combative or totally uninterested. In 2014, the ratio of Tier 1 to Tier 3 meetings with Republicans was 3:1. Each year the number of interested offices has increased and the number of cold offices has decreased; this June we had 21 active and engaged meetings for every combative or disinterested meeting. While popular perception may hold that Republicans don't care about climate change, Citizens' Climate Lobby has found that many GOP lawmakers acknowledge, at least in private, that climate change is a significant concern for America and many of them think the federal government should take some kind of action. This is not to say that they're all ready to turn our proposal into law&emdash;many of them have significant concerns or they prefer a different approach. There was a sense at the CCL conference and among staffers on The Hill that opinions had shifted significantly in the last several years and that bipartisan legislation tackling climate change could come soon. I find this really exciting, and I plan to continue helping build political will for a federal climate solution.

Some personal notes:
Conference organizers said that the dress code on The Hill is formal: offices aren't likely to take you seriously unless you're wearing a suit and tie or socially-approved female- or military-equivalent. I got a suit and dress clothes when I was a senior in college (prior to a national honor society meeting), figuring that as an adult I'd need to wear a suit on occasion. Based on the CU Buffs lapel pin, I don't think I've worn the suit since I left college, so maybe this outing means I'm finally a grown up at age 38.

I heard from other CCLers to expect a lot of walking, since Senate office buildings are on the northeast side of the U.S. Capitol while House offices are on the southeast side, with under-street tunnels connecting the office buildings on each side. I lucked out with three straight meetings on one side. Some folks with short times between meetings told me that some kind staffers had helped them get access to the underground trolley below the Capitol building, which sounded pretty cool.

Speaking of walking and subways, both of them were effective modes of transport in DC. The town is designed with the assumption that a lot of people won't be driving a car, so sidewalks are wide and trains are frequent. The subway system also seemed significantly more cheerful and less grimy than New York's. A friend who used to work in DC told me about the bike path along Rock Creek, so I had a lovely walk from the National Zoo (home of photogenic pandas) to Georgetown, the C&O Canal (now a national park that's 185 miles long and about 30 yards wide), the Potomac River (where I found a Chartres labyrinth overlooked by a bird of prey), the Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Memorial, and Vietnam War Memorial. After five hours of walking, my thighs were sore for two days.

I met with four offices in and around my state. Although I'm not at liberty to discuss the details of those meetings, I'll say that I felt all of them were positive. Republican staffers I met with were interested in our proposal and expressed very specific concerns about policy details and how it might affect their constituents. This is exactly the sort of meeting we want to be having. And offices, even ones who disagree with us, are generally happy to meet with us, in part because they know we're not going to come in and yell at them.

Part of the CCL approach to congressional meetings is to start with an appreciation. It doesn't have to be about climate, but it needs to be something you truly appreciate about something the person has done or said. In one meeting that we were a little trepidatious about, the meeting quickly dove into the policy discussion before I had a chance to share the appreciation. After a spirited discussion about climate and energy policy that lasted twice as long as we expected, I wrapped up the meeting with my appreciation. This led to another five minute discussion on a different topic on which our group and the staffer shared a lot of common concerns.

Maybe we lucked out with the location of the conference hotel, but there's a lot of really good food in Washington from around the country and globe. I had fantastic Afghan curry, Lebanese lamb stew, a crawfish-prawn-sausage boil, and some good bagels.

The National Mall is bigger on foot than it appeared in my minds eye after looking at maps. I arrived in time to get a Burner welcome, do some dancing, and watch the temple burn at Catharsis on the Mall next to the Washington Monument, which is right in the middle of the mall. The Lincoln Memorial at one end and Capitol building on the other seemed quite distant while the White House, which looks as if it's just a few small parks away on a map, seemed rather small. One could probably explore all of the monuments on the National Mall in a day, but it would be a long one.

Speaking of the Lincoln Memorial, despite having seen countless pictures of it, I was unaware what's in the wings. The left side has the Gettysburg Address, which begins with one of the most famous sentences in English but which I don't think I had previously read in its entirety. It's really good and remains relevant today, the 154th anniversary of the speech. The other wing features Lincoln's second inaugural address, which I found quite powerful. Also notable to contemporary debates, when some folks claim that the Civil War was "not about slavery," Lincoln's contemporary remarks make it pretty clear that he (one of the two primary belligerents) thought it was. Above the speeches are two murals with perhaps the most White Savior imagery I've ever seen.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial, newer and much less famous than the Vietnam Veterans Memorial has a set of white soldier statues in a triangular field. Their features are much less distinct than most statues, creating a really beautiful ghostly sense of almost-presence. I was there a day after Veteran's Day so there were a lot of floral wreaths sent by various veteran and civic groups along the also-ghostly black granite mural.

I was familiar with the design and context for the Vietnam Veterans wall. But what was much more emotionally salient, and also familiar from Burning Man's temples, was all the offerings and remembrances left at the foot of the wall. These ranged from candles and flowers to photographs to poems to boots and hats. Much more than a name, these give a sense of the character and humanity of the Americans who lost their lives in that unwinnable war.

Before planning this trip, I had not previously realized that "The Smithsonian" is not one museum but half a dozen under an organizational umbrella. They line the eastern arm of the National Mall with striking architecture. Following a tip from my friend, who worked for The Smithsonian, on my last day I headed for the 4th floor of The National Museum of the American Indian. The shape and color of the building's exterior clues you in that it's got a bit of a different flavor and the tone of the exhibits made clear that Indian people were involved in telling their own story: it wasn't simply a monument to the collected artifacts of colonialism, which is how the British Museum feels. The 4th floor features a long curving exhibit structured around the cycle of the year, the moon, and the stars. Several alcoves introduced the world view of a different indigenous American people and how it plays into their culture, from dress to tools to housing. The other half of the floor is an exhibit dedicated to treaties between Indian tribes and the United States. I had learned from A People's History of the United States that every US–Indian treaty had been broken by the United States, but I didn't know a lot about the particulars. This exhibit does an excellent job of presenting the context, negotiating perspectives, and treaty technologies (from wompum belts to written documents signed with an X to modern legal documents) of over 300 years of treaties between White and Indian groups. The exhibit shows how treaties were broken or subverted, whittling away at tribal land through paperwork and occasional extreme force. It's a remarkably fair and informative exhibit, well worth a (free!) visit for anyone visiting the nation's capital.

This entry was originally posted at https://flwyd.dreamwidth.org/379551.html – comment over there.

19th-Nov-2017 12:54 am - The Righteous Bookshelf
escher drawing hands
I just noticed that I've had a copy of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt sitting on my shelf for a few years. I was unaware of that fact, so I bought it this February as a potential recover-from-surgery book. Between my purchase and it rising to the top of my queue around June, I'd had three independent sources recommend it. And now apparently my mom thought I'd be interested in it as of a couple years ago on Christmas.

So… does anyone want to borrow a copy? It's the kind of book that shifts a lot of folks' thinking. I should probably write a review soon.

This entry was originally posted at https://flwyd.dreamwidth.org/379259.html – comment over there.

2nd-Oct-2017 11:16 pm - Well-Armed Futility
rose silhouette
Trigger warning: guns, violence, murder, game theory.

Last night, a 64-year-old Nevadan killed at least 59 people and wounded more than 500 by shooting several (semi-?) automatic rifles into a large crowd at an outdoor country music festival across the Las Vegas strip. This terrible act was the deadliest mass shooting so far in modern America.

When I hear gun rights advocates talk about how guns can make us safer and that a well-armed populace is the best defense against tyranny, it often sounds like they have specific scenarios in mind. Maybe it's an attacker in a dark alley, or a home intruder, or someone opens fire in a crowded restaurant. And I often get the sense that they've mentally played through this scenario, and have a plan for how they would use a firearm in response. (The use might not involve shooting: the mere presence of a firearm can change the dynamics of a situation and get an attacker to change their course of action.)

I'm having trouble imagining how citizens bearing arms would have made this situation any safer or less deadly.

The shooter was 300 feet above ground and more than 1000 feet away from the victims. Response from someone in the concert area would be difficult under the best of circumstances. A handgun would be a completely ineffective. A high-powered rifle could return fire, but it would require a very good marksman, who would also need to locate the attacker's position. The shooter didn't seem to care who he hit, but a defender would need to make sure they got the right room; otherwise they're just shooting already scared people in the Mandalay Bay hotel. Plus, bringing an assault rifle to a concert (even if it were allowed) doesn't seem like a recipe for enjoying the show, not to mention putting the crowd at grater risk of accidental discharge.

Armed citizens inside the hotel perhaps could have taken action. But that would have required a lot of bravery and/or recklessness: if someone busts through a guy's door who's been shooting rapid-fire across the street, it seems just as likely that he'll whirl and unload into the would-be hero as the hero is to stop the shooter. For anyone concerned primarily with their own safety, getting away from the hallway that a shooter might emerge into seems the only rational move.

In the end, it sounds like the police responded within minutes and confronted the gunman… who then committed suicide. This highlights another incongruity between the scenario I hear from gun rights advocates and the experience America has had with mass shooters. In the scenario, the shooter is often concerned with his own life and will back down when confronted by an armed opponent. Yet game theory assumes a rational and self-interested actor. When the attacker intends to kill himself, or if his mind is willing to die, bodily harm is little deterrent and all bets on rationality are off. Shooting the attacker may disable his body, preventing the number of dead from rising further. But "I might get shot" is kind of the point for someone who wants to go out in a blaze of glory, so the presence of more firearms nearby isn't likely to stop him from starting the scene.

The situation was, of course, resolved by trained people with guns. It sounds like the police responded to the shooter's room in remarkable time—I think it would take me more than two minutes to get from the lobby to a particular room on the 32nd floor of a building even if I knew exactly where I was going. The police have some significant advantages that an armed citizen response would lack. First, they've received extensive crisis response training for situations like this. In theory, militia members would have similar training; in practice, when someone in plain clothes pulls out a gun in an active situation, it's hard to judge how well trained he his, whereas a certain level can be assumed of an officer in uniform. Second, the police are acting as a team, both with folks on scene and folks on the other end of the radio who can coordinate more resources. Third, the police have a social dispensation to use force in an emergent situation. The social contract entrusts official emergency responders to make decisions that the society doesn't trust ordinary citizens to make.

When someone's goal is to kill a lot of people and they're willing to become the final tally in the body count, it's very difficult to prevent a mass shooting on the scene; the most we one can usually accomplish is to shorten it. Preventing a gunman massacre requires intervening before the killer is ready to take action. I don't have a novel solution to offer, and I suspect that there are dozens of different things (none of them easy) that need to be done to reach the dozens of potential shooters. I am reminded of President Obama's comment after the Sandy Hook shooting:
We are going to need to work on making access to mental health care at least as easy as access to guns.


This entry was originally posted at https://flwyd.dreamwidth.org/379042.html – comment over there.

mail.app
Senator Bennet,

Thank you for introducing the Energy Storage Tax Incentive and Deployment Act. Distributed electricity storage helps make our power system more robust and can help lessen the impact when our normally-reliable electrical grid suffers an outage.
Senator Gardner,

Thank you for your letter last week in support of assistance to Puerto Rico to reestablish electric power in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. As someone affected by the 2013 Colorado floods, I know how challenging it is to deal with a disruption to infrastructure that we take for granted. I hope the people of Puerto Rico can soon experience the same ecstatic relief I felt when power was restored after the flood.

I am writing you today about another sort of infrastructure that Americans rarely think about until there’s a problem. As you know, the credit bureau Equifax’s computer systems were compromised in May, allowing the intruders to exfiltrate data about tens of millions of Americans for more than two months. The response to the incident from Equifax has been, frankly, awful. They waited to inform the American people about the breach for five weeks. And once the incident was announced, Equifax was unable to handle the public taking action to secure their data: among other problems, the company did not properly deploy the web encryption standard SSL and the site allowing users to freeze their credit file was unable to handle the demand, leaving many Americans frustrated and frightened about what might done with their data. The cybercriminals who have purloined this data are now able to commit identity and financial fraud in the name of these people, none of whom personally entrusted their data to Equifax.

Credit bureaus like Equifax are not subject to the same market pressures as other companies who collect data from consumers. I am a software engineer working in the cloud storage industry. I am proud that our customers trust us with some of their most private data, and it is crucial for efficient market function that they can delete their data and cancel their account when they choose, whether due to distrust of our security practices or because the data are no longer needed. Likewise, a bank which does not prioritize cybersecurity can expect to lose customers. Unfortunately, credit bureaus which collect and data on nearly every American are not subject to significant financial repercussions when they mishandle that data. The people whose data was stolen did not choose to give that data to the credit bureau, nor are they permitted to remove their data from the company which cannot protect it. The bureaus’ main paying customers—companies seeking data about Americans—are likewise not incentivized to prefer companies with the best security practices, since these paying customers do not suffer the consequences when an American’s identity is stolen.

I urge you to work with the Senate to bring clarity to the American people on what data credit bureaus collect on Americans, how it is stored, and how we can better protect it. I further urge you to work to refine the laws under which credit bureaus operate and ensure that Americans can opt out of having their data collected, and require companies to delete non-public data about Americans upon request. Individual Americans stand to lose the most when their identity is stolen, so they must have the tools to safeguard that identity data, including the ability to revoke it from a company whose security process they do not trust.

Thank you for your service and for your consideration on this matter,
Trevor Stone

Ironically, I had to try several times to submit this through Senator Cory Gardner's website, sine senate.gov kept returning an error that said

Request not Accepted - Security Risk Detected

Request not Accepted

Your submitted request contained a potential security risk.

Please try your submission again using natively composed plain text (not copied and pasted from another document), with few or no hyperlinks, or other syntax that may be interpreted as computer code (examples: '--', '&').

*As stated in the privacy policy, unauthorized attempts to upload or change information are strictly prohibited.

So yeah, Equifax aren't the only ones who are bad at cybersecurity. My first guess was that the site was choking on smart quotes. Then on the em-dash above. Nope: you're not allowed to email a colon (:) to your Republican Senator. Senator Michael Bennet's submission form accepted the text without finding any threatening punctuation.

This entry was originally posted at https://flwyd.dreamwidth.org/378839.html – comment over there.

30th-Sep-2017 11:22 pm - September of Recovery
playa surface
It takes me a long time to recover from Burning Man.

By the first day I'm all clean and my clothes are in the wash. So far so good.

Then I've gotta catch up on sleep. This year, I'd pretty much gotten reestablished on sleep and then went to see Buckethead at the Fox. This started at 9pm on a Wednesday night for some reason. And I decided to order a sandwich after the show, so by the time I was done eating that it was like 1:45. Buckethead was totally worth the late night; the cheap middle eastern food wasn't. Then the next night I hung out playing pinball at Press Play after a great Ignite Boulder and went to bed around 1, so I was back in sleep jail. And yet when I'd go to bed on time this week I had trouble falling asleep or I'd wake up in the middle of the night for no good reason, so I'm back to a five hour or so deficit. October better be a good sleep month.

In parallel with sleep is "Clean all the dust off my crap." I hosed down a bunch of stuff in the back yard on the 17th. I also set up our big canvas tent and beat it with a broom. Hosing the tent down last year required a lot of water-removal from the floor, so I figured I'd let it air out and whack some dust off for a while. Due to my week of late night fun events, the tent was still up a week later. And then it got cloudy for a week straight and started raining for several days. If I hadn't taken advantage of a quick dry spell on Tuesday morning the tent would still be in the back yard, two weeks later. It made it as far as a pile in the sunroom, hopefully not folded in a mildew-inducing way. Hopefully it'll be sunny tomorrow so I can shake it out and fold it properly. I also realized I forgot a to add a couple items to the initial hose-off, so I need to do something about my sleeping bag. I've never had tent and bedding care get pushed all the way out until October.

Then there's the "Pack up all the Burning Man stuff, and while you're at it, pack up the summer-only stuff" stage. Last year I didn't really finish this step, so Playa packing this August involved finding some stuff in the pile on my office floor that I didn't have enough calories to organize in the fall or winter of 2016. I haven't really started on this effort yet, but I need to do a better job than last year and add a general office organization step, since even I'm noticing it's a mess.

And of course there's the "Send a bunch of emails and document what worked and what needs improvement" season that just wrapped up for the Rangers. And September also had two "Help my wife shop for a car rather than dealing with Burning Man crap" days. And today was "The house is clean enough, have folks over for games" day. And tomorrow's tent work will be followed by climate tour organizing and a visit to eTown. We've also had a lot of bountiful but neglected plants in our garden, so I should probably do something about those, too.

This is how a two week vacation turns into two months of work. Good thing Burners embrace absurdity.

This entry was originally posted at https://flwyd.dreamwidth.org/378502.html – comment over there.

24th-Sep-2017 11:25 pm - First Games of Fall
black titan
It's been an eventful summer. It felt like I had something scheduled (even if it was nominally restful) every day from the middle of July through the middle of September. Phew.

Now that the sun has slid past the equinox and the sky has filled with rain, it's time to turn our attention indoors. I'm therefore declaring this Saturday, September 30th, my first game day of fall. And hey, it's just a couple days after my birthday, so that's fitting.

As usual, bring games, friends, food, kids, drinks, and other things that might be fun. I've accumulated a few games over the last year or so that haven't gotten much play, so I'd love to give them another whirl. I've got a bunch of recently-brewed maple ginger spruce ale, so if you're not a fan of hops, you might enjoy this beer. I'll also have some kind of food going. RSVPs help me know how to plan accordingly.

My house is in the usual place. If you don't know where that is, send me an email (and join my games mailing list, where I include more details).

A very merry unbirthday to you!

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22nd-Sep-2017 11:32 pm - Colorado Energy Freedom Tour
1895 Colorado map
Last November I was really disappointed with the election. Not so much the results, but the way the whole year and a half had gone. People weren't listening to each other. They were shouting to their friends and painting folks they didn't know as terrible people. I managed to mostly avoid the commercial media, but the ads I did see were almost universally against an opponent rather than in support of a good idea.

So I decided that after I got healthy, I was going to be the change in political discourse I wanted to see in the world. As a left-leaning Boulderite who rides in technolibertarian cirlces, I wanted to come to a better understanding of conservative points of view and then find some conservatives to have some non-confrontational conversations with.

Since I was still moving slow from my year of illness, I realized that I shouldn't put the bulk of my energy in an imminent fight like health care or immigration. So I turned my attention to climate change, a systemic problem that doesn't require action tomorrow, but definitely requires action soon. It's also a problem that's not rooted in liberal or conservative values: every human has a stake in the outcome.

I connected with Citizens' Climate Lobby a non-partisan group focused on both national climate change legislation and cooperation across party lines. I realized that waiting for Democrats to take all three houses of power wasn't an effective strategy for addressing climate change. Not only would it delay action until the 2020s, it would be an easy target for repeal when the winds of change shift in Washington. CCL's carbon fee and dividend proposal is structured to be attractive to members of both major parties and therefore stands a chance of remaining on the books as people come and go from Capitol Hill. Plus, with the revenue generated from pricing carbon going to households, it could become a widely popular program, meaning constituents will speak up to keep it in place.

For the last few months I've been working with several other CCL volunteers to organize the Colorado Energy Freedom Tour. Following an outreach model that CCL has used from the Gulf Coast to Kentucky to Alaska, we're visiting a handful of towns in eastern Colorado. We'll be giving presentations in Erie, Fort Morgan, Greeley, Parker, and Sterling (and hopefully more to come). But more important than the information we're sharing, we'll be having conversations with folks about climate change, energy policy, and engaging with our elected representatives to ensure that Coloradans voices, whether urban or rural, are heard.

If you know anyone who lives near these towns and is interested in energy, climate, or market solutions, we'd love to see them at one of the presentations. We're also hoping to meet with organizations like city councils, newspaper editorial boards, chambers of commerce, and growers associations. Tell folks to check out Colorado Energy Freedom Tour on Facebook or on our website.

This entry was originally posted at http://flwyd.dreamwidth.org/378014.html – comment over there.

20th-Aug-2017 11:59 am - Directions of Manhood
Vigelandsparken circle man
Discussing coming of age rites, I noted that they should be tailored to the kids involved. “Some boys need to learn how to man up. Other boys need to learn how to man down.”

This entry was originally posted at http://flwyd.dreamwidth.org/377819.html – comment over there.

26th-Jul-2017 12:05 am - Snakes Worth Avoiding
raven temple of moon
The first time I saw a coiled rattlesnake "DONT TREAD ON ME" bumper sticker I was 13 or 14. At the time, I assumed it was conveying advice to hikers and horseback riders: be cognizant of the wildlife around you lest you surprise a rattlesnake. It had not occurred to me that the owner of the vehicle might identify with the snake, not the person in danger of getting bit.

When I later learned that the flag was associated with a more libertarian worldview than a careful-outdoor-recreation sentiment, I had assumed that it was a relatively recent invention. It turns out the flag actually dates back to the American revolution. There's some interesting history in Wikipedia's First Navy Jack article and some less-well-cited information on the Gadsden flag article. The latter has this interesting tidbit:
As the American colonies came to identify more with their own communities and the concept of liberty, rather than as vassals of the British empire, icons that were unique to the Americas became increasingly popular. The rattlesnake, like the bald eagle and American Indian, came to symbolize American ideals and society. … Benjamin Franklin published an essay in the Pennsylvania Journal under the pseudonym American Guesser in which he suggested that the rattlesnake was a good symbol for the American spirit: I recollected that her eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal, and that she has no eye-lids—She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance.—She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage.—As if anxious to prevent all pretensions of quarreling with her, the weapons with which nature has furnished her, she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those who are unacquainted with her, she appears to be a most defenseless animal; and even when those weapons are shown and extended for her defense, they appear weak and contemptible; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal:—Conscious of this, she never wounds till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of stepping on her.—Was I wrong, Sir, in thinking this a strong picture of the temper and conduct of America?

This leads me to imagine a mashup flag of Ben Franklin's choices national mascots, the turkey and the rattlesnake, perched on a cactus à la the Mexican coat of arms. I'm also reminded of a Gadsden flag parody a friend told me about with an ouroboros on a yellow background with muffled words at the bottom. I regret that I have not been able to find this via Google Image Search. ETA March 2018:
[personal profile] ommadawn finally located the "DON'T TREDFF MPF MMNFFPFF" Gadsden Ouroboros!


Wikipedia also notes As the American Revolution grew, the snake began to see more use as a symbol of the colonies. In 1774, Paul Revere added Franklin's iconic cartoon to the nameplate of his paper, the Massachusetts Spy, depicted there as fighting a British dragon. The rattlesnake as a characteristic American dragon is an interesting idea to play with, particularly as an ally of the people (like an east Asian dragon) rather than as a foe to be conquered (like a typical European dragon).

The snake may also be an interesting symbolic way to segment the American right wing. The liberty and independence faction celebrates the rattlesnake as a mascot. The Christian traditionalist faction distrusts snakes generally, due to their association with temptation in the Garden of Eden.

I'm also glad to see that empowered women have thought of not treading on Medusa and put it on shirts and tote bags.

This entry was originally posted at https://flwyd.dreamwidth.org/377566.html – comment over there.

Akershus Castle cobblestones
I'm a day late for the Day of Action, but you've still got until the end of the weekend to submit comments to the FCC. See FightForTheFuture.org for more information.

Senator Gardner,

Thank you for your comments today mourning the passing of Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo. He stood up in support of free speech and was punished by having his communications blocked and censored. I am writing you with an American concern similar to Mr. Liu’s: the right of people to freely communicate without interference from powerful interests.
Senator Bennet,

Thank you for your tweet yesterday in support of #NetNeutrality. This is an issue with major implications for American’s rights to free speech and assembly and their ability to access important information.


The FCC, under Commissioner Pai, has proposed changing the classification of internet service providers (ISPs) so that they are no longer considered telecommunication services and not covered by Title II of the Communications Act. This would have significant negative consequences for Coloradans who use the Internet, which is to say almost all of us.

The principle of common carriage is crucial to fostering an entrepreneurial economy. It has served America well from telecommunications to trucking to oil pipelines to horse-and-carriage transportation companies in the 13 colonies. All of the Internet services that we take for granted—from eBay to Google to Netflix to Facebook—were able to start as a small business and grow to serve hundreds of millions of people because they had equal access to the networks which make up the Internet. Without Title II classifications, ISPs would be allowed to unfairly promote their own Internet and media businesses by foisting discriminatory prices on competitors. In the end consumers would lose, paying more for worse service.

Like the free flow of information, the free market is crucial to the success of the Internet. Unfortunately, ISPs do not operate in a free market and are thus able to abuse their monopolistic position. In many parts of Europe and Asia, citizens have a choice of half a dozen or more ISPs, all competing to provide the best service at the lowest cost. In such an environment, discriminatory traffic management would be disincentivized by the forces of competition. But most Coloradans have just one or two ISPs available. Title II classification is therefore essential for ensuring that we have access to quality communication and content on the Internet. Please join me and over a million and a half Americans this week in contacting FCC Commissioner Pai and tell him you support Title II classification of ISPs and ask him to work to support net neutrality.

Additionally, I urge you to work with the subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet to find a way to introduce more competition to the ISP market so that Coloradans have a meaningful choice for Internet access. This might take many forms, from reducing regulations (while keeping Title II protections) for ISPs to supporting the nearly 100 Colorado communities pursuing municipal broadband. Internet access has quickly become a crucial foundation for participating in modern America and it is of vital importance that Americans have meaningful choice in both how we access the Internet and what sites we can visit.

Thank you for your hard work and dedication in service to America,
Trevor Stone
Software Engineer
Boulder, CO, 80304

Fortunately, my congressman doesn't need any encouraging to support net neutrality. So I sent him a thank you note.
Rep. Polis,

Thank you so much for your support, this week and for the last several years, for Net Neutrality and an open Internet. The first time I visited your website was during the SOPA/PIPA protests of early 2012. Seeking to understand your position on Internet regulation so that I could properly craft a letter in opposition to SOPA, I was immensely gratified to learn that not only did you oppose the bill, you had introduced a strong counter proposal.

As a software engineer and a user of the Internet for nearly 25 years, I am proud that my member of Congress is one of the strongest voices in Washington in support of a free and fair Internet. Please keep up this important fight.

Sincerely,
Trevor Stone
777 Juniper Ave
Boulder, CO 80304

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9th-Jul-2017 11:14 pm - Earth's Energy at Night
asia face of the earth relief
Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is a nice Earth at Night image from 2012. Click to see the hi-res version:
Earth at Night Suomi NPP 2012

I had an Earth at Night poster in my dorm room nearly 20 years ago. Some notable areas that stand out now:

  • Large oil and gas installations are very prominent, and were fairly absent in the late '90s version of the map. There are lots of very bright lights in…
    • The middle of the Persian Gulf
    • The Bakken formation in North Dakota and the Alberta tar sands
    • Bazhenov formation near the Ob river in Siberia
    • Off the coast of the Niger and Congo deltas
    • To a lesser extent, the coasts of northern Alaska, Louisianna, and Venezuela, and the middle of the Caspian Sea
    • I'm not sure what's up with the bright area the shape of Vermont to the south of Korea and west of Japan. It looks further north than the maps I see when I search [East China Sea oil fields]. Maybe it, the dots between Hainan and Vietnam, like the lines between Argentina and the Falkland Islands, signals night fishing
    • The area around Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan is brighter than I expected, too
  • The position of North Korea are very prominence, due to the distinct lack of lights compared to their neighbors
  • Myanmar shows significantly more light than North Korea, suggesting that development there is expanding
  • The Empty Quarter (of Arabia) really is empty
  • Moscow is a lovely 8-pointed star as people have filled in along the arterial highways
  • Metro Bangkok (famous for having the worst traffic in the world) is larger than I'd expected
  • The whole Straight of Malaca is lit up. I'm not sure if that's development on the shore or cargo ships.
  • The brightness of the lower Nile and its delta are always striking. I suspect this may be in part due to the presence of the Aswan dams generating power, not just the population density
  • Israel is somewhat brighter than its neighbors, though western Jordan is fairly solid
  • Europe has several areas that are basically solid light, with big cities only slightly brighter while America has very prominent metropolises with more subdued dots (in the east) and open space (in the west)
  • Speaking of the American east–west divide, there's almost a vertical line from Winnipeg do the mouth of the Rio Grande separating the "plenty of people" part of the country from the "a few metropolitan oases until you get to the Pacific coast" part of the country
  • Though a little less distinct, there's a ring around much of the Tibetan Plateau
  • The Caspian coast of Iran is a more populated area than many folks realize
  • Many folks would also be surprised by the brightness of Java, though as the most populous island in the world it should be expected
  • Taiwan has an interesting western crescent of light
  • Puerto Rico is almost as bright as the Florida coast
  • McMurdo Station doesn't make enough light to show up, but Antarctica has a high albedo, even at night
  • Not only are there very few lights in the Congo rainforest, it also reflects less moonlight than the deserts to its north, south, and east. The Amazon has a similar effect.
  • If you're wondering what's up with West Australia, the images were taken when bush fires were burning

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3rd-Jul-2017 11:53 pm - Spruce Maple Ginger Ale
red succulent
A friend who's interested in home brewing came over today to help me bottle and then brew.

We started by bottling the rhubarb melomel which I started during last year's Independence Day long weekend. I then started losing body mass and caloric intake, making it hard to get up the energy to clean the whole kitchen and bottle that batch of mead. The nice perk of the year-long fermentation process is that I was able to add several stalks worth of fresh rhubarb to the carboy this spring to help bring out the rhubarb flavor. For whatever reason, the final product tastes odd: like a sour rhubarb with a medium-sweet honey flavor and a too-fusile alcohol kick. I'm hoping that it mellows over a couple years in the bottles.

After taking a break for lunch, we proceeded to brew the spruce beer concoction that I've been wanting to do for a while. Bottling and then brewing makes for a long day, but it saves on having to clean the whole kitchen and dining room table twice, and all the gear is already hand and out of the box.

My original plan was to feature spruce needles (in place of hops), a medium liquid malt, ginger, and a pound of honey. When I went to the grocery store for honey and ginger I spotted some maple syrup and realized that that might compliment the spruce as something of a kindred tree spirit sugar. Maple syrup is one of the most expensive sugars you can put in a beer: a quart cost me as much as all the stuff I got at the homebrew store. I chose sparkling amber liquid malt extract for the main fermentable, but the dispenser was really slow (maybe almost out), so I gave up after I got 3 lbs. I rounded out the sugars with 2 lbs of crystal malt grain&emdash;half 40°, half 120°. I also picked up some dried bitter orange peel (to compliment the citrus taste of the needles) and Lallemand Nottingham ale yeast. The clerk started pondering about other possible yeasts and I opined that I had plenty of ways to mess this brew up; choosing a less-than-optimal yeast was not going to be the key factor.

I clipped a loose mason jar worth of fresh blue spruce tips from the tree in our yard. This turned out to be not nearly enough: the spruce flavor is almost undetectable in the wort, even after adding another 50-75% of needs clipped after sampling the brew in progress. Maybe I'll "dry hop" with needles during secondary, or make a needle tea and add it at bottling time.

Nonetheless, the wort is pretty tasty. The malt flavor is very subtle and the ginger is prominent but not intense. The maple syrup doesn't seem to contribute a lot of flavor, but I think it's helping be sweet without strongly malty. Initial reading is about 5% potential alcohol. Like 2015's ginger juniper, folks who don't care for beer may really enjoy this.

ETA: The yeast are really digging this beer. Less than four hours after mixing them in, bubbles are emerging through the airlock in force.

This entry was originally posted at http://flwyd.dreamwidth.org/376826.html – comment over there.

earth eyes south america face
(slightly different wording based on existing positions)

Senator Gardner,

Thank you for your recent op-ed in the Coloradoan arguing that science should be nonpartisan. Thanks also for your work to ensure that Colorado’s leading research institutions like NIST, NOAA, NCAR, and NREL receive sufficient funding to further understand our complex and dynamic world. For over 50 years, Colorado researchers have been instrumental in understanding the Earth’s weather and climate.

I am writing in support of Citizens' Climate Lobby, a nationwide nonpartisan group committed to fair, effective, and sustainable climate change solutions. Earlier this month, 1000 Americans, including 35 Coloradans, traveled to Washington and met with representatives and senators from across the country. CCL is building bipartisan support for a carbon fee and dividend proposal. This proposal would help relieve Americans from the challenges faced by climate change while accelerating American businesses focused on clean energy, all without increasing the size of government or putting American exports at risk.

The last two decades have seen remarkable changes in temperatures and climate, contributing to bigger heat waves and more frequent natural disasters. I experienced the changing climate first hand during the 2013 Boulder floods. When I woke up on September 12th, the thousand-year flood had turned the canyon road to my house into a roaring river. While I was fortunate and avoided significant loss, my family’s lives were disrupted for several months and several friends were much harder hit. Without systemic action to address the rapidly warming atmosphere, this kind of disaster will become more common, straining the ability of first responders and relief organizations to help those impacted.

Energy lies at the core of any economy, and fossil fuels have long played a key role in the American economy. We now know that carbon dioxide emissions are a major contributor to climate change. It is therefore crucial that we transition to a lower-carbon energy mix. The most efficient way to make this transition is to put a price on carbon emissions so that the costs of fossil fuels are no longer externalities. To avoid sudden disruption to the American economy, CCL’s proposal begins with a modest $15/ton fee, rising predictably every year. The money collected will be rebated equally to all Americans. This dividend will give citizens and businesses the opportunity to respond to market changes and to invest in transitioning to a affordable clean energy solutions. These investments in turn will create new jobs and help keep America competitive in global energy technology. Over the course of a generation, we can make the transition to a resilient low-emission economy.

Although President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Accords, it is still crucial for America to take action on climate change. CCL’s proposal would help America take the lead in clean energy while boosting our economy and creating jobs. The proposal includes a border adjustment to ensure that American exporters remain competitive. This will also incentivize our trading partners to implement their own national carbon fee, leading to a global decline in carbon emissions without the need for complex multinational treaties. A substantially similar proposal was put forth by James Baker, George Shultz, and the Climate Leadership Council. It has received support from many leading organizations and individuals including Larry Summers, Stephen Hawking, ExxonMobil, and The Nature Conservancy (https://www.clcouncil.org/founding-members/).

Sincerely,
Trevor Stone
Boulder, CO 80304


Senator Bennet,

Thank you for speaking out on the Senate floor in support of climate science. Thanks as well for publicly questioning President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Although the U.S. is no longer part of that international process, we can still work as a nation to reduce carbon emissions, grow the American economy, and build resilient communities.

I am writing in support of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a nationwide nonpartisan group committed to fair, effective, and sustainable climate change solutions. Earlier this month, 1000 Americans, including 35 Coloradans, traveled to Washington and met with representatives and senators from across the country. CCL is building bipartisan support for a carbon fee and dividend proposal. This proposal would help relieve Americans from the challenges faced by climate change while accelerating American businesses focused on clean energy, all without increasing the size of government or putting American exports at risk.

The last two decades have seen remarkable changes in temperatures and climate, contributing to bigger heat waves and more frequent natural disasters. I experienced the changing climate first hand during the 2013 Boulder floods. When I woke up on September 12th, the thousand-year flood had turned the canyon road to my house into a roaring river. While I was fortunate and avoided significant loss, my family’s lives were disrupted for several months and several friends were much harder hit. Without systemic action to address the rapidly warming atmosphere, this kind of disaster will become more common, straining the ability of first responders and relief organizations to help those impacted.

Energy lies at the core of any economy, and fossil fuels have long played a key role in the American economy. We now know that carbon dioxide emissions are a major contributor to climate change. It is therefore crucial that we transition to a lower-carbon energy mix. The most efficient way to make this transition is to put a price on carbon emissions so that the costs of fossil fuels are no longer externalities. To avoid sudden disruption to the American economy, CCL’s proposal begins with a modest $15/ton fee, rising predictably every year. The money collected will be rebated equally to all Americans. This dividend will give citizens and businesses the opportunity to respond to market changes and to invest in transitioning to a affordable clean energy solutions. These investments in turn will create new jobs and help keep America competitive in global energy technology. Over the course of a generation, we can make the transition to a resilient low-emission economy.

Bipartisan support for climate change legislation is growing in Congress, and I urge you to help bring it about. Please also ensure that any climate legislation passed by the Senate follows the fee and dividend model. Not only will the dividend help offset higher energy prices for struggling citizens, the revenue neutrality is crucial for gaining Republican support. Both climate change and renewable energy affect everyone, so it’s important that the bill is supported by leaders and voters across the political spectrum.

Sincerely,
Trevor Stone
Boulder, CO 80304

This entry was originally posted at http://flwyd.dreamwidth.org/376524.html – comment over there.

red succulent
I love the debate that I get into occasionally… They say, "You know the way you farm won't feed the world versus the way we farm. We're feeding the world," and I love it when they say that, because they say, "You just can't produce enough."

… I say, "Okay, let's have that debate, but before we have that debate, I want us to both stipulate that neither farming system will feed an endlessly increasing population." The Earth has got a carrying capacity, and once you get beyond that carrying capacity, neither one of them is going to feed the world.

And most of them will stipulate that… And I say, "Okay, well I'll go ahead then and capitulate right up front that if we're going to run out of acres first, you win. You can feed way more people than I can if acres are the only limiting factor. If we get unlimited water, unlimited petrol fuel, unlimited antibiotics that don't create pathogen-resistance unlimited fertilizer resources you win.

"But now if the limiting factor becomes water, I'm probably going to win, because I don't use as much water as you do. If the limiting factor becomes petrol fuel, I win, because I don't use as much of it as you do. And if the limiting factors become phosphates and potash and these other depleting resources, I win, because I don't use as much as you. And antibiotics and pesticides, and so on. I win just about any way we do it other than acreage."
— Will Harris of White Oak Pastures on industrial versus sustainable agriculture, quoted in Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating food systems for a changing climate by Laura Lengnick

Well put. It's something of an engineering approach to food.

This entry was originally posted at http://flwyd.dreamwidth.org/376086.html – comment over there.

transparent ribbon for government accoun
According to reports, Colorado's Cory Gardner is one of thirteen Republicans drafting a Senate version of the House's rush job American Health Care Act. Observers expect Senate leaders to try to ram this bill through before the July 4th recess, which doesn't give Americans much time to comment on the substance of the measure. This week is therefore your opportunity to talk to your Senators about the House bill and your feelings about health care in general. This BoingBoing post provides links to useful resources, including contact information for health care staffers for all Republican senators. Interestingly, 28 of 52 health care staffers have female-sounding names, with two or three ambiguous first names while only 5 Republican senators are women.

Senator Gardner,

Thank you for your work in support of an effective Veterans Administration, ensuring that Americans who have served their country can receive a high quality of care. I am writing because I have read news reports that you are among a group of senators developing a health care bill based on the one recently passed by the House. I have also read that Republican leaders hope to pass the Senate bill before the July 4th recess. I have concerns about both the process and the rumored substance of this bill.

America’s health care system needs improvement. Americans spend more on health care per capita than any other country, yet our life expectancy and other quality of life measures trail many of our peers in the G20 (https://ourworldindata.org/the-link-between-life-expectancy-and-health-spending-us-focus). This imbalance puts America at a competitive disadvantage. Higher health care costs lead to less discretionary spending, weakening domestic demand for American products and services. Worse overall health leads American workers to be less productive as they must take time away to care for their own health or for sick family members. The imbalance between coverage offered in the group market and individual market also makes it harder for entrepreneurial Americans to leave a large employer and start a new business. By increasing access to care and reducing its overall cost, America can become stronger, more productive and innovative, and more resilient as a nation.

The message that the House sent with the AHCA was that insurance premium costs are the biggest challenge facing the American health system. Premium costs are an important issue, but they pale in comparison to both the overall cost of care and the ability of many Americans to access quality care at all. Many of the premium savings offered by the AHCA are driven by changes which allow insurers to offer less coverage or to offer cheaper policies to younger and healthier people while older and at-risk Americans’ premiums will rise. These changes will not bring about a healthier or more resilient America. Rather, they will lead us to abandon the Americans who need help the most: the CBO estimates that the AHCA would cause 23 million Americans and 280,000 Coloradans to lose health coverage by 2026 (https://www.cbo.gov/publication/52752 and http://acasignups.net/ahca-coverage-loss).

2016 was a challenging year for my wife and I, navigating several medical crises. We were able to survive the financial aspect not because of low premiums or our ability to save about $2000 through a HSA but because of a reasonable out-of-pocket maximum and because in many cases our insurance-negotiated rates were half of the provider-billed amounts. My biggest worry as I faced months of illness was that I would lose my job and therefore my insurance. Under the AHCA plan and with my newly discovered pre-existing condition, I worry that if I lose my job that the high cost of American health care would lead to either bankruptcy or death. This is a prospect that Americans need not face: our nation is strong and innovative enough that we can find a way to ensure that every citizen can receive quality health care at a reasonable cost.

Finally, I am concerned that you and other Republican senators are developing this bill in private and are hurrying to pass it before the American people can come to understand the proposal and provide our input. America’s health care system needs significant improvements, but the situation is not so urgent that we cannot take six months to have a national conversation about how we can best ensure that Americans have access to the care we need. The United States Senate has a proud history as a deliberative body, carefully considering the impact of legislation not just on the current political cycle but on the effect it has on the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans for generations to come. The House version of the AHCA bill was prepared in such a rush that the CBO has not yet had time to estimate the macroeconomic effects and share that data with the American people. I hope that the Senate takes a more careful approach and listens closely to the people of Colorado and America. I encourage you to include success metrics for cost, coverage, and overall health in the Senate bill; if these metrics do not improve under the bill, its provisions should sunset.

Come 2020, the resilience of the American health care system will play a significant role in my voting choices. I will be swayed not by how low my monthly premium prices are but by whether I and the people I care about receive better or worse medical and mental health care than we could in 2016. I am blessed to have a good job and modest investments; I happily paid $221 for the Net Income Investment Tax knowing that it helps provide health care to those less fortunate than I. And I would gladly pay more in income tax to achieve a healthier and more resilient America.

Thank you for your consideration and hard work on this matter,
Trevor Stone
Boulder, Colorado

This entry was originally posted at http://flwyd.dreamwidth.org/376050.html – comment over there.

charbonneau ghost car
I spent Thursday through Sunday hanging out with the Colorado burners and other local freaks at Apogaea near Trinidad in southern Colorado. I signed up for the Saturday night graveyard Ranger lead shift (just me and other Ranger rockin' the whole event). I was able to bed down in a camp hammock in the shade at 7am, and managed to kinda-sleep until around noon. I then leisurely ate breakfast and packed up camp, and left the site around 4pm. I took a left at Colorado City and spent an hour at Bishop Castle in the San Isabel Forest in Custer County. If you've never seen Bishop Castle, it's totally worth the detour if you're anywhere near Pueblo or Florence.

I got back to the Denver metro area at about quarter to 10 and cruised up I-25. At 10:20, as I exited onto US-36 to Boulder, my engine started surging and lost momentum. I was able to safely pull over to the side of the highway on top of an overpass. I took a look under the hood and didn't see anything obviously wrong, so I started the car again (something sounded odd) and tried to creep forward to the nearby off ramp. The car felt like it was going about half a mile an hour, which would've taken me until midnight to get off the freeway, so I turned off the engine and called my insurance company's contracted roadside assistance company.

Some combination of busy callers and short call center staffing meant I spent around 15 minutes on hold before I talked to a person, who said she'd dispatch a tow truck and that I'd get a confirmation text message in 10–15 minutes. 20 minutes later, I called back and spent a couple more minutes on hold. The representative said someone was still working on getting ahold of a tow for me. A few more minutes passed and I got a text that said Apple Towing & Roadside Assistance would provide the tow with an ETA of 12:30am (two hours after my initial phone call). I hung out in my car, feeling the shake as vehicles passed by in the right lane, ate camping snacks, and played games on my iPod for a while. 12:30 came with no tow truck, so I called the number given in the text (303-222-4343), which led to a recorded message that a voice mailbox had not been set up, then disconnected. I called twice more with the same result and then called roadside assistance again. After another 10+ minutes waiting in the queue, the agent tried calling the company a couple times and also couldn't get ahold of them, so they put in another dispatch request.

Finally at 1:30am, a guy with a wrecker from 24/7 Towing showed up. Holy cow was I excited to see him. He loaded up my Subaru and homeward we went. A couple minutes into the ride, a supervisor from the roadside assistance contractor called me and said he was trying to figure out why I hadn't been picked up yet. I said I had just been picked up and gave him the name of the tow company, so he said he'd go poke at their computer system.

At 2:03am I joyously walked into my front door, kissed my wife, and took a shower. (OMG was I dirty after four days running around like a weirdo in the mountains.) Final bedtime was something like 2:30am. I'd already told my coworkers that I might take Monday off, knowing I might be tired from the graveyard shift, so I set a goal of sleeping in. A combination of my internal clock, the near-solstice sun, and a hungry cat woke me up at 8:30, but I was able to relax in bed for a couple hours, which was almost as nice as sleep.

Final score: 270 mile, 10 hour trip home. 5.5 hours driving, 1 hour climbing a castle and taking photographs, 3 hours on the side of the freeway, half an hour in a tow truck.

There was a bit of a happy coda. After unloading on Monday I couldn't even get the car to start, so I called roadside assistance back to see if a tow from my house to the repair shop would be covered. The representative said it wouldn't be, but then looked at my record in the computer system which still showed that no tow had arrived. She was therefore able to schedule my 2-mile tow under the original claim at no additional cost. So I had that going for me, which was nice.

I'd been worried that this might be the final outing for my car, which is now 20 years old, and has 213k miles and a bunch of body damage. It turns out that the failure was due to my fuel pump, which only cost $850 to replace (along with the fuel filter and diagnostics), which seemed like a better deal than shopping around for a new vehicle (since I'm not sure quite what my next ride should be).

Hopefully my family is done with car trauma for the year. In March, my mom totaled her Subaru by running into a large rock at the corner of her street and my dad's minivan stopped operating safely, so they ended up buying two used vehicles in the span of a week. And then in May, Kelly's car got totaled in the crazy Denver hail storm, though the car is still fully functional.

This entry was originally posted at http://flwyd.dreamwidth.org/375654.html – comment over there.

6th-Jun-2017 11:35 pm - Capitalists Without Bars
currency symbols
Among the many imbalances between labor and capital is what happens during detention.

If a laborer is in jail for a year, he loses a year's worth of wages. (Setting aside the other consequences of likely losing his job.)

If a capitalist is in jail for a year, still receives a year's worth of investment growth. He might even be able to change his investment mix if he's able to get a message to his agents.

And a corporate person can't be arrested at all.

This entry was originally posted at http://flwyd.dreamwidth.org/375529.html – comment over there.

4th-Jun-2017 03:12 pm - Groups Without Babies
Vigelandsparken face to face
Religions are moral exoskeletons. If you live in a religious community, you are enmeshed in a set of norms, relationships, and institutions that work primarily on the elephant to influence your behavior. But if you are an atheist living in a looser community with a less binding moral matrix, you might have to rely somewhat more on an internal moral compass, read by the rider. That might sound appealing to rationalists, but it is also a recipe for anomie—Durkheim's word for what happens to a society that no longer has a shared moral order. (It means, literally, “normlessness.”) We evolved to live, trade, and trust within shared moral matrices. When societies lose their grip on individuals, allowing all to do as they please, the result is often a decrease in happiness and an increase in suicide, as Durkheim showed more than a hundred years ago.

Societies that forgo the exoskeleton of religion should reflect carefully on what will happen to them over several generations. We don’t really know, because the first atheistic socieites have only emerged in Europe in the last few decades. They are the least efficient societies every known at turning resources (of which they have a lot) into offspring (of which they have few).
— Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion, "Religion is a Team Sport."

While many European countries have low native birthrates, the successful ones have high immigration rates. I see this as a transitional phase in group selection. Haidt argues that religious communities and practices are a group adaptation: groups of humans with a strong religious bond are able to overcome free rider problems and outcompete—as a group—groups which are less cohesive or whose cultural practices are less effective at bringing collaboration to fruition. For most of human history, one's membership in a religious group was generally from life through death: leaving a religious group meant leaving a tribe, or having a conquering tribe's religious system forcibly replace the conquered tribes.

But now large group "superorganisms" (including religions, nations, governments, and companies) don't have to be tied to a human lifecycle. In the 21st Century, humans have considerable ability to move between groups. Much as an animal organism doesn't die as its cells come and go at a steady pace, a paper entity can grow and thrive so long as it can get a continual influx of new resources, even if those resources shift focus to providing outcomes beneficial to the group rather than reproducing on their own. This is particularly true for companies: two parents often work for different companies; a baby born to the couple is not generally part of either company's culture; and there's no assumption that the child will grow up to be part of the company as an adult. Workers might be part of a company for a few months or a few years (and rarely more than half their lives), yet companies like IBM and UBS are older than roughly half of the countries in the UN.

This entry was originally posted at http://flwyd.dreamwidth.org/375190.html – comment over there.

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