Tag Archives: resources

Arboreality – A Review

The book cover of Arboreality. The title is written in gold font on a hunter green background. This looks like an old leather book cover with a burnt bottom right half revealing botanical drawings and "by Rebecca Campbell" on the "first page" underneath the cover.

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into Arboreality, but Campbell really pulled off multiple perspectives in a short book, which is no small feat. I was anxious about how well head hopping across time would work without something the length of a Sandersonesque tome, but by keeping the geographic scope limited and the characters within a few degrees of separation of each other, the narrative stays tight enough to stay invested in the outcome.

This book also does a good job of walking the line between climate apocalypse and everything was fine because of some hand wavy solution. Things are pretty rough throughout the book, but it does feel like things are slowly getting better. Wildfires, future pandemics, and sea level rise are just some of the issues facing our protagonists.

What I really appreciated is that there is no one hero to save us from climate change. The characters can’t save the world on their own. What they can do is plant seeds, both literal and figurative, for the next generation. That’s what spoke to me in this book. It really brought the concept of being a good ancestor to life, something my own ancestors might have thought of as “cathedral thinking.”

At this point, a certain amount of warming is baked into the climate system and I’m not going to see things return to “normal.” If you and I each do our own part to make the world a little better than we left it though, maybe my kid will see a stable climate or the next generation after them. I really puts all the struggles we’ve faced in the climate movement into perspective and makes them feel worth fighting even though they often don’t feel like enough.

If you even have the slightest care for future generations, do yourself a favor and read this book!

Thanks to Stelliform Press for providing an ARC in exchange for my honest review.


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Hundred Rabbits – Real Life Tidalpunks

Two humans wearing rabbit masks complete with large ears stand on a rocky outcrop with barren trees and a vast sky in the background. There are mountains in the background as well with cumulus clouds above.
The Rabbits

You may have noticed that I’m somewhat obsessed with tidalpunk around here, but since I hadn’t even seen the ocean until I was in my 20s, I’m probably not the best person for advice about how to actually be a tidalpunk. This is where you would be better served by the artist collective, Hundred Rabbits.

Hundred Rabbits is an ocean-faring duo writing energy efficient software and finding ways to better mesh life on a sailboat with tech work. They’ve documented much of what they’ve learned on subjects like living off grid, why they’ve developed their own software tools, and how you can shop for your very own sailboat to live the tidalpunk life.

We talk a lot about keeping gadgets going longer and designing them for repairability here, and Hundred Rabbits are living that out in a much more extreme environment than we have here in central Virginia. According to their stated philosophy, “We target 20 years old hardware as to encourage recyclism and discourage the consumption of fashionable electronics.” They’re really hitting the Reduce and Reuse parts of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. The fact they also use a 2010 MacBook Pro as one of their main machines makes me even more excited to have been introduced to their work.

Are there any other tidalpunks out there that you’ve run across? Are you going to buy a boat and join them yourself? Let us know in the comments!


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Wild ideas: Ban advertising

At its most altruistic, advertising helps people find products or services that can improve their lives. In reality, advertising generates dissatisfaction in people so they will try to fill an imagined void with the thing the advertiser is selling.

Researchers have found that the amount of money spent in a country on advertising is inversely proportional to the happiness citizens report in that same country. While dividing by zero is inappropriate, it seems that eliminating advertising is a simple way to increase the happiness of many people. I think the characters in Walkaway by Cory Doctorow said it best:

“Is there really abundance? If the whole world went walkaway tomorrow would there be enough?”
“By definition,” she said. “Because enough is whatever you make it. Maybe you want to have 30 kids. ‘Enough’ for you is more than ‘enough’ for me… Depending on how you look at it, there’ll never be enough, or there’ll always be plenty.”

Walkaway by Cory Doctorow

The first step to banning ads seems to be the billboard ban. A few states in the US have such bans, and São Paolo, Brazil drew a lot of press when they instituted their “Clean City Law in 2006. Despite predictions of economic collapse brought on by the lack of outdoor advertising, citizens overwhelmingly supported the move and the change brought many previously hidden civic issues to light. Given the rollout of “smart billboards” that bring the pervasive tracking you know and love from the internet to the real world, getting rid of billboards everywhere else can’t happen soon enough.

Current advertising practices promote carbon-intensive lifestyle goods like SUVs that increase global carbon emissions. We should significantly limit, if not totally eliminate, all advertising if we want to hit the Paris Accord targets. We’ve built an economy based on growth for growth’s sake, and capitalism treats natural resources as infinite when it’s clear they aren’t. Banning advertisement is the first step in reducing consumption. Remember, it’s Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. The recycle is last for a reason.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Pexels.com

One group that’s been working to curb advertising is Fairplay, a nonprofit that runs the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. While their efforts are focused on a specific demographic, it seems that they have been working in the space the longest. As a new parent, I’m especially interested in their work. Growing our next generation of citizens outside of the consumer mindset would be an excellent place to start banning ads.

As a small business owner, I’d love to see an end to ads. While I have run ads to drive traffic to my Etsy shops, I feel that it isn’t something I like spending time on or feel adds a lot of value to the end product. Maybe selling on Etsy isn’t the best idea since I abhor sales, but I really like making things and don’t have enough room to keep all of my projects around. While I need people to find the things I make, I don’t like hunting customers around the internet like a predatory car salesperson.

Finally, if you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to install an ad-blocker and/or tracker blocker software. I use uBlock Origin, Privacy Badger, Canvas Blocker, and Decentraleyes on my own Firefox installation, but everyone has their own favorites. This software lets you regain a little bit of privacy as well as block a fair amount of the ad traffic directed toward your eyeballs. It’s not foolproof, but it can help you regain a small modicum of sanity in this ad-saturated world.

Do you love ads and think this is a terrible plan? Have you seen any clever ideas to circumvent ads? Let us know below.

Tidalpunk Food – Fishing and Farming the Sea

The camera looks up at a school of fish from below. They appear to be swimming in a circle around the center of the image.
Photo by Harrison Haines on Pexels.com

Dr. Sylvia Earl says we need to stop commercial fishing if we want to keep our oceans healthy. Over-fishing and pollution are driving many species to the brink, not to mention the harm of increased ocean temperatures and acidity brought on by climate change. For those of us not in societies where fishing provides subsistence, is there a better way to get our fix of fish?

On the horizon, and already on some store shelves, plant-based seafood could prove to be a way to get that taste of the sea without the environmental and human toll. This is good news since beyond the environmental toll, industrial seafood also has more than its share of human rights abuses. Current faux fish focuses on staples that are more about what you do with them than the underlying flavor of the meat. Crab cakes, shrimp, and canned tuna substitutes are the leaders of the pack here. While lab-grown seafood is getting a lot of investment, it is still nascent at best like lab-grown meats. Unsurprisingly, it takes a lot of work to grow cells outside of a living organism.

A diagram showing a boat on the surface of the ocean over seaweed on a line and oyster, mussel, scallop, and clam cages.

The image describes the advantages of this "polyculture farming system:"
-High yields of shellfish and seaweed
-Small footprint
-Low barrier to entry
-20 acres, a boat, and $20-50k
-Carbon and nitrogen sink
-Zero inputs: no fresh water, fertilizers, or feed
-Storm surge protection
-Rebuilds marine ecosystems
GreenWave’s Aquacultural Model

The real rock star when it comes to aquaculture and sustainability is seaweed. Able to sequester carbon, serve as a protein source, reduce emissions from cattle, and provide oil for biofuels, kelp is truly the wonder algae. One of the best primers on the potential of seaweed to help in the climate fight is the two-part podcast on kelp farming from “How To Save a Planet.” These episodes center on the efforts of GreenWave, a non-profit developing a 3D “polyculture” system for growing kelp and shellfish in the ocean. Since kelp and shellfish don’t require agricultural inputs (fertilizer, fresh water, etc.), this form of aquaculture is both eco-friendly and economical. Plus, with all the co-benefits to shoreline and marine communities, this is a great example of multi-solving.

Unfortunately, a lot of the ocean-related technologies being developed right now are from big governments or big corporations. GreenWave is focused on building a network of small holding ocean farms instead of replicating terrestrial agriculture’s industrial model though. They’re putting the punk in tidalpunk!

If you have ideas on how to bring these emerging technologies into the commons, let us know below!


This is Part 2 in our feature on tidalpunk for August. See Part 1: Can Maritime Shipping Go Tidalpunk?, Part 3: Tidalpunk Energy – Offshore Wind in the US, and Part 4: Plastics – A Tidalpunk Antagonist.

Theseus’ Laptop

A 15" MacBook Pro Laptop. It is aluminum with black keys on the keyboard. It is sitting on a floral print bench near a window.
My 2010 MacBook Pro

At the risk of jinxing things like the failure of my Pebble shortly after extolling its retro-tech virtues, I thought I’d write a bit about my laptop after reading this piece in Low Tech Magazine about why Kris De Decker won’t buy another new laptop. While we have several computers in the household, my daily driver is a 2010 Macbook Pro.

At this point, I have replaced many of the parts of this notebook, and I’m starting to have questions along the line of Theseus’ Ship. After replacing the logic board, keyboard, trackpad cable, battery, hard drive, RAM, power supply, and soon a speaker, is this the same laptop I bought secondhand in 2013 off of Craigslist? It doesn’t really matter as long as it still runs, I suppose, but it is a curious thought.

When I bought the laptop, I had finished my university studies and wanted to switch away from a Windows tablet to something that could handle CAD and video work. When a wine-damaged MBP showed up on Craigslist that would still work plugged into an external keyboard, mouse, and monitor, I decided to take a chance. After a failed attempt to repair the video issue on the logic board and replacing the keyboard via a laborious process involving lots of teeny-tiny screws, I had a functioning laptop.

One of the last Macbooks before Apple started soldering everything onto the logic board, this machine has served me well for writing, running our Etsy shops, doing simple CAD and vector drawings, answering emails, and connecting via video chat with folks. I can’t operate very long away from a power outlet, but otherwise this computer does everything I need it to.

A screenshot of my current desktop and device info. The laptop is a Core i7 620 with 4 cores at 2.67GHz. I apparently need to get the drivers squared away for the video card still.
My Debian Desktop and Computer Info

Every so often, I see a new, shiny computer and am tempted to retire this one, but it’s hard to beat the economic and environmental advantages of using a computer you already have. I switched over to Debian for my daily OS since I suspect we’ll be running out of updates for OSX High Sierra very soon and OSX has been mysteriously crashing since late last year when doing simple tasks.

I’ve tried switching this computer to Linux a few different times over the years I’ve had it, but it’s always been an unsatisfying experience for one reason or another. Imagine my surprise when this time Debian worked so well! Like any Linux install, there’s a bit of minor configuration to get everything working properly, but at least it will work properly instead of some of the very strange issues I’ve had in the past.

Do you have an older computer that suits your workload too? Tell us about it below!

Good news for tidalpunks

humpback whale in ocean

Photo by Andre Estevez on Pexels.com

The Guardian recently reported that according to scientists in Nature, if we take the right steps moving forward, we could have healthy, vibrant oceans again as early as the 2050s. Some bright points in ocean restoration that exhibit the resiliency of Mother Nature include humpback whale and sea otter populations that were once quite dire.

Some challenges that we still must overcome to find our tidalpunk future are overfishing, agricultural runoff, and ocean acidification due to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide. This year will be particularly challenging for life in the Gulf of Mexico given the increased rainfall expected once again in the Midwest United States which drives erosion and agricultural runoff. An increase in regenerative agriculture on the land, and sustainable fishing practices in the water would help greatly toward the goal of revitalizing our oceans.

A study from 2016 showed that protecting 30-40% of the world’s oceans from exploitation would provide a benefit not only for the creatures in the ocean, but also for the people who rely on fishing and tourism to make their living. By setting aside parts of the ocean for the wildlife that lives there, we ensure long-term viability of the ocean’s biodiversity. In 2018, the United Kingdom’s Environmental Minister became one of the first major political leaders to back the plan.

On a personal note, as a midwesterner, I’d never been to the ocean until I was twenty. Growing up in a place where the largest bodies of water were ponds and small streams, it was boggling to see the water stretch out beyond the horizon. All the different types of fish and birds that live along the shorelines here in Virginia are fascinating to watch, and the ocean waves themselves are mesmerizing. I feel a great respect for the ocean, and hope that we can help it recover from the damage caused by years of careless neglect.

Do you live near the ocean? Are there any programs in your area to help wildlife, aquatic or terrestrial? Let us know below!

Agile City Development

IMG_20200305_1234234 An apartment building in Charlottesville

Last month, I talked about how seeing the city as an ecosystem is an important element of urban planning. Treating every project that happens in the city as an isolated event doesn’t take into account possible interactions with other existing or future work. We can’t reasonably account for every interaction, but we should try to maximize the number of synergistic interactions and minimize unintended consequences.

agile-work-horizon-of-predictability The Horizon of Predictability from Agile Advice

As a project grows larger and its timescale increases, it grows more difficult to predict its interactions with the surrounding environment. One way to keep projects within a “horizon of predictability” is to take “small bets,” as advised by Strong Towns, instead of always pursuing that next multi-million dollar development project.If we take an Agile Development approach, then we can start with what identifying issues within a particular area, ranking them in order of impact, and selecting the one or two that would have the biggest impact that we could accomplish in a short time frame.A city’s sidewalk network is one place we could apply this technique. In 2015, Charlottesville published it’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan. The plan identified major corridors for walking and biking in the city and prioritized areas in need of improvement. Looking at the 2019 update of the Master Plan, however, it becomes clear that there hasn’t been a lot of progress on most of these projects.

Where the sidewalk ends Where the sidewalk ends

There are plenty of places where our sidewalks cut out for a few yards or even a few blocks. Pedestrians are forced to walk in the road or across someone’s lawn. This isn’t ideal, and it’s much worse if you need to find a route with a wheelchair or crutches. If we started by identifying areas where there is a lot of foot traffic, we might find places where a small investment in concrete could make great improvements to pedestrian safety.The traditional approach to development in cities can result in incomplete buildings or infrastructure that are actually worse than if you hadn’t started the project at all. The obvious example of this for Charlottesville residents would be the Landmark/Dewberry Hotel on the downtown mall. Construction began shortly before the Great Recession hit, and ten years later, its partially completed skeleton still looms over the most expensive part of town.

Dewberry

The Landmark Hotel by Sean Tubbs via a CC BY 3.0

I’d really like to see the city move toward small, incremental projects that slowly fix problems we see. This allows us to expend fewer resources at a given time toward solving a problem, as well as allowing us to test different approaches and course correct as we implement plans. One refrain I’ve heard several times since moving here is that the city has “analysis paralysis.” We expend millions of dollars toward study after study, but the citizens just don’t see anything come from it. People in city government then get frustrated when there’s a lack of engagement from the community. It’s hard to get buy-in when the past has shown that the city lacks follow through.I think future work should include more small area plans that bring neighbors together to shape how their neighborhoods will look in the future. There should probably be some oversight to make sure that these small area plans are welcoming, not exclusionary, but people from the neighborhood will be closer to the ground truth of what small actions might create the biggest effects in people’s day-to-day life.At the end of the day, we all want our communities to be a better place. By coming together and figuring out what small changes we can make, we can get started right away. We don’t need to wait on the next four year plan to make things better.City Council held a work session on zoning, and city staff made recommendations on how to make it easier for residents to build Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) or split existing homes into duplexes, triplexes, or quadraplexes. These small changes to the existing zoning code are happening independently of the larger zoning rewrite that is part of the Comprehensive Planning process. These changes aren’t going to solve our housing crisis, but they will make a dent. This small zoning change to allow small increases in density by allowing more small development is the perfect example of how many small steps can add up to a big one.I hope that this new City Council will be open to more small bets in the future. If they are, I think we’ll make progress more quickly by taking a lot of small steps than taking big steps that might not always land on solid ground.

Are there people in your town working on small bets with or without your local government? Let us know below!

Cities as ecosystems

Charlottesville City Zoning Map (c. 2009)

Charlottesville City Zoning Map (c. 2009)

With the start of the new Comprehensive Plan here in Charlottesville, I’ve been thinking a lot about the big picture of the city. I’ve been involved with bicycle advocacy here in town for awhile now, and I’ve felt that was definitely something worth fighting for since cycling, walking, and other active forms of transportation benefit both the environment and human health. Also, when you look at bicycling in the US, you have a bimodal distribution of users — people who have to cycle and people who choose to ride. Bike advocates have traditionally been from the latter group due to middle class people having more spare time to be active in local politics.

The more I’ve worked in transportation, the more I see that we need to seek synergies when fighting for equitable, sustainable, solarpunk futures. Poverty and homelessness are often portrayed as the fault of the poor, the result of laziness or bad luck. The truth is that the systems built into our society and built environment put up barriers to certain groups of people that are easy to overlook from a privileged perspective. How can we start to see things as systems, and not a collection of isolated parts?

We have a template to draw from in nature. In a natural ecosystem, there is no waste, just an endless flow of energy and material from one organism to the next. What if we started to look at our cities as ecosystems? How could we build synergistic effects between parts of our built environment?

13714826875_1c9fed839b_k

Garden courtesy of cuprikorn

Take a city park as an example. In traditional design, you’d select a plot of land, stick some trees and grass there, and call it a day. You might go so far as to add some playground equipment if you were putting it in a residential area.

Approaching a park from an ecosystem perspective, however, would allow for a much more vibrant community experience. We have a park here in Charlottesville that isn’t reaching its full potential because while it borders two different neighborhoods, a busy street separates one neighborhood from the park. Parents don’t feel safe crossing with their kids, so they don’t go to the park. If we took the whole ecosystem into account, safe crossing to and from the park would have been an integral part of its design. As discussed extensively in The Nature Fix, exposure to nature is immensely beneficial for mental and physical health. Poor design has a tangible, detrimental effect on equity.

Taking things a step further, the green space of parks also affords an opportunity to work on sustainability. Charlottesville is in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and has an important role to play in reducing pollution that flows into the Bay. In addition, stormwater management is becoming an increasingly important aspect of urban design as climate change makes storms more variable and rainfall less predictable. As a way of integrating ecological density, we could add native plantings to encourage pollinators as well as rain gardens and permeable pavement for managing stormwater.

By taking some additional steps in the design phase of a project, we enhance the equity, sustainability, and beauty of the city all at once instead of requiring separate projects to achieve a less resilient and integrated design. The same approach could be used when approaching transportation or housing. Taking the system as a whole into account when making planning decisions will allow us to more carefully shepherd our resources and do the most good with our limited community resources.

What opportunities for ecological systems thinking are there in your area? Let us know below!

Digital Minimalism – A Review

digital-minimalism-3d

I picked up Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport from my local library expecting to read more of the same information I’d seen before: social media companies use slot machine psychology to hook users; in-person communication is higher quality; spending so much time on our phones is hurting our relationships. This was all in there, but beyond the facts of the matter, Newport opened my mind to new ways of thinking about my relationship with technology and how it’s designed.

Minimalism at its core isn’t based on asceticism, where one denies earthly pleasures for the sake of austerity. I often find myself strongly trying to resist any emotional impulse to make purchases. I think this self-imposed austerity may have been causing undue stress by saying “you can’t have that,” instead of the healthier question of “is this something that could bring value to my life?”

In respect to technology, and apps in particular, Newport revisits calls by friends to join social media because it might be useful. He counters by saying that any tool should have a clear benefit to warrant your time. It’s not that any of these tools are bad per se, but since you only have so much time and attention, do you really want to spend it on something that might be useful, when there are so many other things that definitely would be?

three person holding smartphones

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

I’ve mentioned before how I struggle to balance my thirst for new information and time to be creative and thoughtful. It’s something I feel I still haven’t worked out, but Digital Minimalism helped me find some new tools to use in this quest.

Digital Minimalism also deals with some of the more sweeping issues resulting from the unique types of distraction available in the 21st Century. There have always been more things to do than time in the day, so distraction is nothing new. We have reached a point, however, with the introduction of the smartphone, where corporations vying for your attention via the “attention economy” have unfettered access to your eyeballs. Even our work is becoming more fractured and distracting with the advent of the gig economy.

Even after the advent of the internet, people were relatively alone in their own heads when they were mobile. Sure, you could listen to a personal soundtrack on your Walkman. With a computer in your pocket, you’re only a quick tap away from whatever information you seek. The end of the bar bet was also the end of pondering.

The book doesn’t preach throwing away your smartphone, although it does suggest methods of using digital tools so they help you achieve your aims instead of those of the advertising companies. For some people, that might mean going back to a phone that only supports calling and texting. For many others, removing social media apps from your phone will suffice. The key is knowing yourself and what you want to accomplish with theses tools.

Digital Minimalism wasn’t what I expected. While it did have some of the same information I had read before regarding the distracting nature of digital technologies, it was neither alarmist nor placating. It presented a well-reasoned and tested set of tools for using digital technologies in a reasonable way that can help you feel a little less discombobulated in this distracting world.

Do you have any thoughts on practices to keep technology from distracting you from what’s important? Do you find it ironic I wrote this post predominantly on my phone? Sound off below!


Disclaimer:  This review is my honest opinion of the book, but I may get financial reimbursement through the affiliate link in this article.

MapJam – Sharing in the city

adult book business cactus

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Shareable is a great resource for following advances in the “sharing economy,” with an emphasis on platform cooperatives and other community ownership models that you probably won’t see from the other outlets that focus on the space. One of the more interesting projects they’re working on is their Community Maps. Generated by local residents in a given region, these maps detail where you can find sharing services in the community.

The data for the maps is generated by MapJams, collaborative mapping parties where people can get together and map out as many sharing services as possible in their city. Charlottesville has a Shareable Community Map, but it is sparse and based on proprietary mapping software. I contacted Shareable about the mapping tools, and they said that new MapJams use the Open Street Map-based uMap system. uMap is an easy to use framework that allows anyone to make a custom Open Street Map and then embed it into any website.

I’m hoping to coordinate a new MapJam for Cville in the near future, so if you’re in the area, please reach out and let me know if you can help. Suggestions for places that should be on the map or help with coordinating the MapJam itself would be greatly appreciated!

Does your city have a Shareable Community Map? Are there any sharing services in your city that deserve a shout out? Let us know below!