After going vegan, there are obvious things you miss like good cheese (they are getting better, but still have room to improve) and there are less obvious foods like croissants. Maybe it’s obvious to everyone else, but having never made croissants, I hadn’t thought about all the layers of butter required to make them so flaky.

We finally decided we wanted to try them and Dom found a recipe on We tried them. They were amazing! Just what we’d been missing. Then a few weeks later, she went to make them again and the recipe (and the entire site) was gone. I was able to find a copy of it and reached out through several platforms to ask permission to repost it here. After weeks, I’ve heard nothing back but felt the recipe needed to be shared so below is our experiment with vegan croissants. We used the Miyokos butter and it’s amazing. We haven’t tried their vegan butter recipe, but included it in case you can’t get Miyokos where you are. The photo is of one of the croissants Dom made, the rest of the content is theirs.


  • 260ml water
  • 14g fast-action yeast (2 sachets)
  • 500g plain flour
  • 10g salt
  • 40g caster sugar
  • 360g vegan butter (we used Miyokos or see below)
  • Splash of non-dairy milk


  • Step 1 In a large bowl, put your water, sugar and yeast and stir together
  • Step 2 Add your flour, salt and 100g of vegan butter and knead until it all comes together (mix it in the bowl first before tipping out and kneading). If you have an electric whisk with a dough hook, you can use this
  • Step 3 Cover the dough with cling film, place in the fridge, and leave for 8 hours or overnight
  • Step 4 Once you’ve placed your dough in the fridge, take the remaining 260g of vegan butter and place between two pieces of parchment paper or into a sandwich bag
  • Step 5 With a rolling pin, flatten the butter until it becomes a square shape that is roughly 7×7 inch (ideally, measure it with a tape measure to be sure). Wrap in cling film and place back in the fridge and leave until your dough is ready (you need to be working with the butter cold but not rock solid, so ensure it stays in the fridge until needed, and then work quickly)
  • Step 6 Once your dough has been left for at least 8 hours, remove from the fridge and place on a lightly floured worktop
  • Step 7 With a rolling pin, roll into a rectangle that is 14×7 inches in size
  • Step 8 Take your slab of butter and place it in the middle of your dough
  • Step 9 Fold the two ends of the dough to meet in the middle over the butter slab, and make sure the butter is sealed by pushing the dough together all around the edges
  • Step 10 Turn the dough so that the join is now straight in front of you, not lengthways. Starting from the middle, roll your pastry out into a long rectangle, till it’s roughly 22×7 inches in size (do not roll back on yourself, always come back to the middle and roll out towards the edges)
  • Step 11 Now it’s time for your first fold. Take one end of your dough and fold about two thirds of the way down, then take the other end, and fold it on top, so that you’ve folded the dough into thirds and you’re left with a rough square shape
  • Step 12 Wrap your dough into cling film (make sure it’s well wrapped as this stops it from drying out) and put in the fridge for 30 minutes to 1 hour
  • Step 13 Remove from the fridge and place it so that the folded end of your dough (the part like the binding of a book) is on your left
  • Step 14 Roll your dough again until it’s 22×7 inches (step 10), then repeat step 11 (the fold), wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for 30 minutes. Repeat this again (make sure fold is on left, roll and fold), wrap in cling film, but this time place in the fridge for 60 minutes
  • Step 15 After your dough has been in the fridge for its third and final time, remove from the fridge and on a lightly floured surface, roll out to about 24×8 inches
  • Step 16 Next, create yourself a template. Cut a piece of card or paper into a triangle shape. The base should be 4 inches wide and it should be 8 inches high
  • Step 17 Place your template onto your dough and cut around it (use something sharp like a pizza cutter) to create 9 triangle shapes
  • Step 18 Take a piece of dough and make a small slit in the middle of the base of your triangle with a knife
  • Step 19 Roll your dough from the base to the end using your finger and thumb, turning by the corners so as to not crush the layers
  • Step 20 Repeat for all pieces of dough
  • Step 21 Place on a baking sheet with the pointed end at the bottom, then brush each croissant lightly with some non-dairy milk
  • Step 22 Cover lightly with parchment paper and leave to rise for 1 hour. Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees fan. Once heated, place in the oven for 20 minutes. If they look like they’re browning too quickly, cover with tin foil
  • Step 23 Remove from the oven and allow to cool
  • Step 24 Serve!

Vegan Butter Ingredients

  • 200ml water
  • 160g cashews, soaked overnight
  • 250ml refined coconut oil, melted (it is important to use refined and not unrefined to avoid a strong coconut flavour)
  • 20ml sunflower oil
  • 1tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2tsp soy lecithin granules
  • 1tsp salt (don’t add if using the butter for vegan croissants)


  • Step 1 Place all ingredients in a high-speed blender
  • Step 2 Blend until smooth
  • Step 3 Pour into silicon mould (or old butter tub) and leave to harden in the fridge
  • Step 4 Serve!
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I’ve been baking for a while and keeping my sourdough starter going for about two years. During the first 23.5 months, one person asked for some. Since beginning “Stay Home, Stay Safe,” aka COVID lockdown, four nine (as of April 20) different people have asked for some. Since several of them haven’t cared for starter recently and because I want to track what I do to see how it changes over time, this will walk through the entire process from getting starter to making bread. I will probably be vague in places because I know what I mean, but if you see something that isn’t explained as well as it should be, please let me know and I’ll add details.

  1. IMG_20200408_095832

    Step 1: Just mixed, note the volume

    In a medium bowl, mix 100g starter with 75g bread flour and 75g warm water. Stir, cover, and set aside.

  2. Add 25g bread flour and 25g water to the starter. Stir, cover, and set aside. If you are likely to bake in the next 4 days, you can leave it on the counter. If it’s going to be at least a week, put it in the fridge.
  3. Check the bowl every few hours. When bubbles start to pop on the surface, it’s ready to use. This usually takes 8-24 hours depending on the temperature and how active the yeast were when mixed. If in doubt, wait.


    Step 3: Very bubbly and much larger

  4. Empty the bowl into your stand mixer* and add 500g total flour (I like to use about 30g Rye and 30-90g Whole Wheat with the rest being bread flour, but all bread flour or other similar combinations work). Also add 325g warm water, 13g salt, and 1/4 tsp commercial yeast (optional, helps keep the timing consistent).
  5. Start to mix with the bread hook on a slow setting until all the flour is wet. It will still be lumpy. Turn off mixer and let it rest for 10 minutes.


    Step 5: Mixed and still lumpy

  6. Mix on medium-high speed until the dough is smooth and pulls the dough completely away from the side of the mixer. If in doubt, let it mix longer. More mixing won’t harm the dough. When ready, it should look like this:
  7. Let the dough rise in the mixer bowl or another bowl on the counter until it doubles in size. This usually take 2-3 hours if you used the optional commercial yeast and 2-24 hours without it.
  8. Dump the dough onto a floured counter. Stretch the dough until it just starts to create small tears then fold the stretched part back. Rotate 90° and repeat until you’ve done it four times. Each stretch will get a little harder to do and tear a little sooner. (See start of video in next step)
  9. Form the dough into a ball and stretch the surface by pushing the sides underneath the ball. This video shows steps 8, 9, and 11:
  10. Line a medium-large bowl with a tightly woven kitchen towel and sprinkle liberally with flour.
  11. Flip the ball of dough into the bowl so the seam that was on the bottom is now on top.
  12. Let it rest for 1 hour.
  13. Preheat the oven to 475° F with the rack on the bottom. Put a large pot (big enough for the dough ball to fit inside with plenty of room) in the oven and allow it to heat.
  14. Sprinkle a little flour on the seam of the dough ball then flip it over onto a baking sheet. Slice a line, square or X on the top of the bread with a very sharp knife. This helps it expand in the oven.
  15. Pull the pot out of the oven, flip it over to cover the bread and put it all back into the oven for 30 minutes
  16. Pull the pot off the bread, lower the temp to 425° F, and bake for another 20 minutes
  17. Pull the bread out and let it cool completely on a wire rack before cutting it. This helps the center finish cooking
  18. IMG_20200408_152538

    Step 18: Feed your yeast

    Before baking next time, you need to feed your yeast another 25g flour and 25g water 24 hours before doing Step 1. If the yeast was in the fridge, it might want up to a day of extra time to warm up and get going again before moving on the Step 1 again.

Good luck and please let me know how it goes.


Enjoy the bread

* I like to use a stand mixer but you don’t need to. Without one, mix until the dough is lumpy but there is no dry flour and let it rest for 10 minutes. Then knead it for 1-2 minutes and let it rest for 10. Then knead it once more and you should be good. There are a lot of different techniques for kneading. Note, the dough will start off very sticky and seem like a mess. Given enough time and kneading, it will come together. I recently found this kneading technique and like it, but do what works best for you. YouTube is full of different kneading videos.

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Making Vegan Challah (First Try)

IMG_20190402_193543I’ve been baking breads for several years now, but still remember the confusion of getting started. So many recipes said things like “Add water 1 TBSP at a time until reaching the right consistency” or “Let rise until the dough rebounds when you push on it” or “Knead the dough until you can read through it during a window pane test”. After so many loaves, some of those phrases have started to make sense. To be fair, that last one still hasn’t ever worked for me like I think it’s supposed to.

I’ve occasionally brought bread into work to share. This week a friend announced she was taking a new job and would host the final lunch talk about equity in education. These have been wonderful discussions for two reasons. First, these are conversations we need to be having for our students and our staff. Second, she always brings great snacks to share. After her announcement, she let me know she had some special berry jam from home that she was planning to bring and wondered if I could make challah to go with it. Having never made it and knowing only that it uses a lot of eggs, I said I would happy make a vegan version for the lunch.

Looking around online, I found several recipes, but none were quiet what I was looking for, so I decided to combine a few. As I started making it, the dough seemed extremely dry. I now know that I misread the instructions and only included about 30% of the liquid it called for. As the dough continued to mix, I decided to give up on the recipe completely and just go with what seemed right. I started adding liquid in small amounts, then just dumped in water, soy milk, and oil. It was finally looking close, but at that point, I felt I’d added too much, so more flour went in. Eventually I felt it had reached “the right consistency” and let the dough rise.

IMG_20190402_180715It rose much faster than I was used to, so I worked quickly to cut it into strands and braid it. After baking, I had trouble waiting for it to cool before tearing into it. It came out great, good color and flavor. It’s times like that when I feel I’m not just messing around with bread in the kitchen, but maybe just maybe, I’m an actual baker.

So here’s approximately what I think I put in:

Dry Ingredients:

  • 600g AP Flour
  • 10g Dry Yeast
  • 10g Salt

Wet Ingredients:

  • 80g Soy Milk (plus additional for wash)
  • 75g Canola Oil (plus additional for wash)
  • 60g Honey* or Agave
  • 260g 315g Water (Updated after another test)
* I use honey from bees we keep. I recognize this isn’t technically vegan, but it works for me. You can use any similar liquid sweetener.


  1. Combine all dry ingredients
  2. Combine wet ingredients and mix well
  3. Stir wet ingredients into dry and mix for 2 minutes at slow speed
  4. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes
  5. Mix/kneed with dough hook for 5 minutes at moderate speed (4-6)
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 once more
  7. Let rise for about 90 minutes
  8. Cut dough in half. Cut each half into four pieces and form them into strands
  9. Braid the strands into a loaf and place each loaf on parchment paper
  10. Preheat oven to 350° F
  11. Let rise for about 60 minutes
  12. Paint tops of loaves generously with wash made of equal parts oil and soy milk
  13. Bake for 40 minutes
  14. Let cool and enjoy
  15. Wish your friend well in her new job.



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BLE BirdLight

Avery has never been a great sleeper. In fact, by the time she turned two and a half, the number of nights she slept all the way through could still be counted on one hand. We’ve tried multiple approaches including co-sleeping, crib sleeping, sleeping in her own bed, singing her to sleep, rocking her, or letting her “cry it out” in her crib. The last resulted in her climbing up the side of her crib, over the top, and falling to the floor. Decidedly less than ideal.

Several of our friends with kids about her age have started using Wake Up Clocks. The idea is that the clock changes color to let the young ones when when they should be in bed and when it’s ok to get up. Mostly they were using it because their kids would come in at 4:30 in the morning to ask if the day was starting yet. For most of the families, these clocks worked wonders with one child staying in his room an extra 30 minutes beyond the end of his nap because the parents forgot to switch the color of the light. (We also have one family where the child comes into the parents’ bedroom at all hours to tell mom that it’s still time to be in bed, in case mom was wondering, so it doesn’t work well in all cases). We decided to try it and see if having another cue would help with the nighttime routine.

I was wondering if it was the sort of thing I could build, but assumed Dom would rather just buy one. When she asked Avery if it would be fun to have me convert an old battery-powered night light into a multi-colored wake up clock, I was on board (and luckily, so was Avery).


Avery helping take apart the night light

I started by taking apart the light we had and seeing what was inside. I got help with this step. Turns out, it’s a small space. I wanted to put in a micro-controller, but the smallest one I’ve worked with recently, Arduino Nano, is too big to fit. I had some Arduino Micro Pros sitting around that I wanted to play with and this was the perfect opportunity. One of those would just fit inside and could run off the same power regulator that was already there.

I wanted to control the bird light with an app on my phone which meant it had to have wireless connectivity of some kind. I went with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) because it was cheap, small, and I had one of those chips sitting around as well. The prototype was roughly the size of a piece of toast. Way too big, but at least it worked. Then came the challenge of shrinking it down. This took longer than I expected, but I now feel much more confident about soldering really small components.


Once it was all put back together, I was able to pick one of over 16 million colors for the light. All it took was five clicks and entering a hex value for the color I wanted (i.e. yellow is #ffff00). Turns out that the other people who want to control the light didn’t think that was intuitive. Fair enough.


Time to create an app. Most of the phones people will use to control the light run Android, so I decided to create the controller in App Inventor. It was quick and easy. If you’ve never written an app for your phone, but think it sounds interesting, this is the way to go. With no coding experience, you can create something simple in less than an hour. Anyhow, I was testing the app and found it mostly worked. Unfortunately, I had the color wrong and the bird went bright blue while Dom was putting Avery down one night. Oops.

We now have a Bluetooth-controlled multi-color Wake Up Clock. We’ve only been using it for a few days and already Avery is learning what it means. She knows when it’s yellow, we need to start calming down and go brush teeth. Pink (and barely on) means it’s time for bed and Bright Blue means it’s time to get us (she picked the colors). The yellow and pink have been helpful for getting us to bed without too much protesting. Blue is very exciting because we can then run around. So far it hasn’t helped with sleeping through the night or staying in bed, but it’s still early in the process. Hopefully over time, she’ll learn to trust the light a little more. In the mean time, it’s one more part of the bed time routine which helps us calm down and get ready for sleep. Plus, when compared to letting her “cry it out,” this hasn’t caused her to fall out of her crib, so I guess that’s a win.



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Can’t you check the wiring?!?

A group of four students in the Nelsen Middle School Robotics Club stared from their robot to the diagram on the screen and back again.
“Wait, does the yellow wire go there?”

“No, I think it goes in the next line down.”

They were spending significantly longer determining where all the parts went this time than last. Because of the limit focus they had the first time, wires had been cross and they burned out an Arduino microprocessor. I had another one and told them they could have it as soon as all the team members agreed that the robot was correctly wired this time.

“I think we’ve got it. Can we get the new chip?”

“She doesn’t seem convinced. You all need to agree, then you get the chip and I don’t want you burning another chip.”

“Can’t you check the wiring?!?”

“Why would I do that? You have the diagram for how it needs to be wired and you’ve shown me that you can read it. Take your time and do it right this time.”

“… uh… ok… uh… we’re not ready yet…”

The chips are only $4 each, but I didn’t have an unlimited supply of them with me. I wanted to see how they would do if I put all responsibility for this on them. It was their robot, after all.

The one who was always quick to dive in and change things started explaining why each wire was where it was. Another student who spent the first 20 minutes of the meeting reading a book about Arduinos put it down and leaned in to get a better view. All four of them asked questions, moved wires and pointed to the diagram on the screen. After 15 minutes, one of them came to me and said, full of confidence, “We’ve got it!”

“Are you sure?”

Looking back at the others and now speaking with slightly less confidence, “Yes!… ?”

“Ok, here’s the new chip. Install it on the breadboard and have everyone double check that it’s in the correct place before you turn it on.”

Three minutes later, and only about 45 seconds before the end of the meeting, they agreed that it was correct. They turned it on and the robot started to drive, exactly how they’d programmed it. They were elated.

It’s fun to see what students can do when we empower them enough to make the decisions. The consequence of failure here would have been destroying a $4 chip, but because I wasn’t going to check their work, they wanted to ensure that it was done right. They took pride in their work and the results were exactly what they hoped for. If I could get students to do that everyday at the cost of a few Arduinos, I’d take that deal for every student in the district.


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Earlier this year, after listening to several podcasts proclaiming that Sapiens was the best book of 2016, I decided I should give it a glance. The online reviews made it sound interesting but I still wasn’t convinced that I’d make it beyond the first chapter. Once I started, I really got into it and ended up with more notes from this book than any other in recent memory.

Usually I keep these notes and quotes for myself, but decided to post them this time. I typically look back through these to remind myself of the highlights from the book. I hope they’re helpful to you.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Consistency is the playground of dull minds.

Since we might soon be able to engineer our desires too, perhaps the real question facing us is not ‘What do we want to become?’, but ‘What do we want to want?’ Those who are not spooked by this question probably haven’t given it enough thought.

The heated debates about Homo sapiens’ ‘natural way of life’ miss the main point. Ever since the Cognitive Revolution, there hasn’t been a single natural way of life for Sapiens. There are only cultural choices, from among a bewildering palette of possibilities.The

Like the elite of ancient Egypt, most people in most cultures dedicate their lives to building pyramids. Only the names, shapes and sizes of these pyramids change from one culture to the other. They may take the form, for example, of a suburban cottage with a swimming pool and an evergreen lawn, or a gleaming penthouse with an enviable view. Few question the myths that cause us to desire the pyramid in the first place.

In medieval Europe, aristocrats spent their money carelessly on extravagant luxuries, whereas peasants lived frugally, minding every penny. Today, the tables have turned. The rich take great care managing their assets and investments, while the less well heeled go into debt buying cars and televisions they don’t really need.

As Nietzsche put it, if you have a why to live, you can bear almost any how. A meaningful life can be extremely satisfying even in the midst of hardship, whereas a meaningless life is a terrible ordeal no matter how comfortable it is.Though

Family and community seem to have more impact on our happiness than money and health. People with strong families who live in tight-knit and supportive communities are significantly happier than people whose families are dysfunctional and who have never found (or never sought) a community to be part of.

Still, if we combine all the victims of all these persecutions, it turns out that in these three centuries, the polytheistic Romans killed no more than a few thousand Christians. In contrast, over the course of the next 1,500 years, Christians slaughtered Christians by the millions to defend slightly different interpretations of the religion of love and compassion.

while the price of war soared, its profits declined. For most of history, polities could enrich themselves by looting or annexing enemy territories. Most wealth consisted of fields, cattle, slaves and gold, so it was easy to loot it or occupy it. Today, wealth consists mainly of human capital, technical know-how and complex socio-economic structures such as banks. Consequently it is difficult to carry it off or incorporate it into one’s territory.

The Scientific Revolution has not been a revolution of knowledge. It has been above all a revolution of ignorance. The great discovery that launched the Scientific Revolution was the discovery that humans do not know the answers to their most important questions.

The modern age has witnessed the rise of a number of new natural-law religions, such as liberalism, Communism, capitalism, nationalism and Nazism. These creeds do not like to be called religions, and refer to themselves as ideologies. But this is just a semantic exercise. If a religion is a system of human norms and values that is founded on belief in a superhuman order, then Soviet Communism was no less a religion than Islam.

Various human species had been prowling and evolving in Afro-Asia for 2 million years. They slowly honed their hunting skills, and began going after large animals around 400,000 years ago.

It is true that married people are happier than singles and divorcees, but that does not necessarily mean that marriage produces happiness. It could be that happiness causes marriage. Or more correctly, that serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin bring about and maintain a marriage.

The average person in Jericho of 8500 BC lived a harder life than the average person in Jericho of 9500 BC or 13,000 BC. But nobody realised what was happening. Every generation continued to live like the previous generation, making only small improvements here and there in the way things were done. Paradoxically, a series of ‘improvements’, each of which was meant to make life easier, added up to a millstone around the necks of these farmers.

When evaluating global happiness, it is wrong to count the happiness only of the upper classes, of Europeans or of men. Perhaps it is also wrong to consider only the happiness of humans

Cognitive dissonance is often considered a failure of the human psyche. In fact, it is a vital asset. Had people been unable to hold contradictory beliefs and values, it would probably have been impossible to establish and maintain any human culture.

Christianity would not have lasted 2,000 years if the majority of bishops and priests failed to believe in Christ. American democracy would not have lasted 250 years if the majority of presidents and congressmen failed to believe in human rights. The modern economic system would not have lasted a single day if the majority of investors and bankers failed to believe in capitalism.

The average Christian believes in the monotheist God, but also in the dualist Devil, in polytheist saints, and in animist ghosts. Scholars of religion have a name for this simultaneous avowal of different and even contradictory ideas and the combination of rituals and practices taken from different sources. It’s called syncretism. Syncretism might, in fact, be the single great world religion.

capitalism gradually became far more than just an economic doctrine. It now encompasses an ethic – a set of teachings about how people should behave, educate their children and even think. Its principal tenet is that economic growth is the supreme good, or at least a proxy for the supreme good, because justice, freedom and even happiness all depend on economic growth.

Unfortunately, complex human societies seem to require imagined hierarchies and unjust discrimination. Of course not all hierarchies are morally identical, and some societies suffered from more extreme types of discrimination than others, yet scholars know of no large society that has been able to dispense with discrimination altogether.

Scientists have provided the imperial project with practical knowledge, ideological justification and technological gadgets. Without this contribution it is highly questionable whether Europeans could have conquered the world. The conquerors returned the favour by providing scientists with information and protection, supporting all kinds of strange and fascinating projects and spreading the scientific way of thinking to the far corners of the earth. Without imperial support, it is doubtful whether modern science would have progressed very far.

Notwithstanding the popular image of ‘man the hunter’, gathering was Sapiens’ main activity, and it provided most of their calories, as well as raw materials such as flint, wood and bamboo.

in its extreme form, belief in the free market is as naïve as belief in Santa Claus. There simply is no such thing as a market free of all political bias. The most important economic resource is trust in the future, and this resource is constantly threatened by thieves and charlatans. Markets by themselves offer no protection against fraud, theft and violence. It is the job of political systems to ensure trust by legislating sanctions against cheats and to establish and support police forces, courts and jails which will enforce the law.

Some religions, such as Christianity and Nazism, have killed millions out of burning hatred. Capitalism has killed millions out of cold indifference coupled with greed. The Atlantic slave trade did not stem from racist hatred towards Africans. The individuals who bought the shares, the brokers who sold them, and the managers of the slave-trade companies rarely thought about the Africans.

person who wishes to influence the decisions of governments, organisations and companies must therefore learn to speak in numbers. Experts do their best to translate even ideas such as ‘poverty’, ‘happiness’ and ‘honesty’ into numbers (‘the poverty line’, ‘subjective well-being levels’, ‘credit rating’). Entire fields of knowledge, such as physics and engineering, have already lost almost all touch with the spoken human language, and are maintained solely by mathematical script.

Just as human politicians on election campaigns go around shaking hands and kissing babies, so aspirants to the top position in a chimpanzee group spend much time hugging, back-slapping and kissing baby chimps. The alpha male usually wins his position not because he is physically stronger, but because he leads a large and stable coalition

Capitalisms belief in perpetual economic growth flies in the face of almost everything we know about the universe. A society of wolves would be extremely foolish to believe that the supply of sheep would keep on growing indefinitely. The human economy has nevertheless managed to grow exponentially throughout the modern era, thanks only to the fact that scientists come up with another discovery or gadget every few years – such as the continent of America, the internal combustion engine, or genetically engineered sheep. Banks and governments print money, but ultimately, it is the scientists who foot the bill.

The real test of ‘knowledge’ is not whether it is true, but whether it empowers us. Scientists usually assume that no theory is 100 per cent correct. Consequently, truth is a poor test for knowledge. The real test is utility.

That’s why many cultures concluded that making bundles of money was sinful. As Jesus said, ‘It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God’ (Matthew 19:24). If the pie is static, and I have a big part of it, then I must have taken somebody else’s slice. The rich were obliged to do penance for their evil deeds by giving

This situation might of course change in the future and, with hindsight, the world of today might seem incredibly naïve. Yet from a historical perspective, our very naïvety is fascinating. Never before has peace been so prevalent that people could not even imagine war

Advocates of equality and human rights may be outraged by this line of reasoning. Their response is likely to be, ‘We know that people are not equal biologically! But if we believe that we are all equal in essence, it will enable us to create a stable and prosperous society.’ I have no argument with that. This is exactly what I mean by ‘imagined order’. We believe in a particular order not because it is objectively true, but because believing in it enables us to cooperate effectively and forge a better society. Imagined orders are not evil conspiracies or useless mirages.

Without the efforts of modern European imperialists such as Rawlinson, we would not have known much about the fate of the ancient Middle Eastern empires.

But once the threshold of 150 individuals is crossed, things can no longer work that way. You cannot run a division with thousands of soldiers the same way you run a platoon. Successful family businesses usually face a crisis when they grow larger and hire more personnel. If they cannot reinvent themselves, they go bust.How did Homo sapiens manage to cross this critical threshold, eventually founding cities comprising tens of thousands of inhabitants and empires ruling hundreds of millions? The secret was probably the appearance of fiction. Large numbers of strangers can cooperate successfully by believing in common myths.

How can we distinguish what is biologically determined from what people merely try to justify through biological myths? A good rule of thumb is ‘Biology enables, Culture forbids.’ Biology is willing to tolerate a very wide spectrum of possibilities. It’s culture that obliges people to realise some possibilities while forbidding others.

The cradle of humanity continued to nurture numerous new species, such as Homo rudolfensis, ‘Man from Lake Rudolf’, Homo ergaster, ‘Working Man’, and eventually our own species, which we’ve immodestly named Homo sapiens, ‘Wise Man’.

There is a positive feedback loop between all these four factors. The threat of nuclear holocaust fosters pacifism; when pacifism spreads, war recedes and trade flourishes; and trade increases both the profits of peace and the costs of war. Over time, this feedback loop creates another obstacle to war, which may ultimately prove the most important of all. The tightening web of international connections erodes the independence of most countries, lessening the chance that any one of them might single-handedly let slip the dogs of war.

The earth of a hundred millennia ago was walked by at least six different species of man. It’s our current exclusivity, not that multi-species past, that is peculiar – and perhaps incriminating. As

Money was created many times in many places. Its development required no technological breakthroughs – it was a purely mental revolution. It involved the creation of a new inter-subjective reality that exists solely in people’s shared imagination.Money is not coins and banknotes. Money is anything that people are willing to use in order to represent systematically the value of other things for the purpose of exchanging goods and services.

Capitalism distinguishes ‘capital’ from mere ‘wealth’. Capital consists of money, goods and resources that are invested in production. Wealth, on the other hand, is buried in the ground or wasted on unproductive activities.

Each year the US population spends more money on diets than the amount needed to feed all the hungry people in the rest of the world. Obesity is a double victory for consumerism. Instead of eating little, which will lead to economic contraction, people eat too much and then buy diet products – contributing to economic growth twice over.

Some human species may have made occasional use of fire as early as 800,000 years ago. By about 300,000 years ago, Homo erectus, Neanderthals and the forefathers of Homo sapiens were using fire on a daily basis.

Even if we were to completely disavow the legacy of a brutal empire in the hope of reconstructing and safeguarding the ‘authentic’ cultures that preceded it, in all probability what we will be defending is nothing but the legacy of an older and no less brutal empire.

Christian saints did not merely resemble the old polytheistic gods. Often they were these very same gods in disguise. For example, the chief goddess of Celtic Ireland prior to the coming of Christianity was Brigid. When Ireland was Christianised, Brigid too was baptised. She became St Brigit, who to this day is the most revered saint in Catholic Ireland.

As the twenty-first century unfolds, nationalism is fast losing ground. More and more people believe that all of humankind is the legitimate source of political authority, rather than the members of a particular nationality, and that safeguarding human rights and protecting the interests of the entire human species should be the guiding light of politics. If so, having close to 200 independent states is a hindrance rather than a help. Since Swedes, Indonesians and Nigerians deserve the same human rights, wouldn’t it be simpler for a single global government to safeguard them?

turned out that 1–4 per cent of the unique human DNA of modern populations in the Middle East and Europe is Neanderthal DNA. That’s not a huge amount, but it’s significant. A second shock came several months later, when DNA extracted from the fossilised finger from Denisova was mapped. The results proved that up to 6 per cent of the unique human DNA of modern Melanesians and Aboriginal Australians is Denisovan DNA.

The Agricultural Revolution certainly enlarged the sum total of food at the disposal of humankind, but the extra food did not translate into a better diet or more leisure. Rather, it translated into population explosions and pampered elites. The average farmer worked harder than the average forager, and got a worse diet in return. The

Modern Westerners are taught to scoff at the idea of racial hierarchy. They are shocked by laws prohibiting blacks to live in white neighborhoods, or to study in white schools, or to be treated in white hospitals. But the hierarchy of rich and poor – which mandates that rich people live in separate and more luxurious neighborhoods, study in separate and more prestigious schools, and receive medical treatment in separate and better-equipped facilities – seems perfectly sensible to many Americans and Europeans. Yet it’s a proven fact that most rich people are rich for the simple reason that they were born into a rich family, while most poor people will remain poor throughout their lives simply because they were born into a poor family.

However, an imagined order cannot be sustained by violence alone. It requires some true believers as well. Prince Talleyrand, who began his chameleon-like career under Louis XVI, later served the revolutionary and Napoleonic regimes, and switched loyalties in time to end his days working for the restored monarchy, summed up decades of governmental experience by saying that ‘You can do many things with bayonets, but it is rather uncomfortable to sit on them.’ A single priest often does the work of a hundred soldiers far more cheaply and effectively.

Christians and Muslims who could not agree on religious beliefs could nevertheless agree on a monetary belief, because whereas religion asks us to believe in something, money asks us to believe that other people believe in something.

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Car-less year completed

Life’s been a bit busy recently with leaving a job, traveling to Alaska for a friend’s wedding, moving from Boise to Seattle, buying a house, looking for a job, all while watching Avery and, of course, not driving. Well, things are starting to settle back into order now and my year of going car-free has come to an end.

In August of last year, I traded in my car and promised to not drive for a year in exchange for a nice bike. The ceremonial trade-off was at Tour de Fat, an amazing biking and beer event. My last driving trip before surrendering Lizzy, my car, was to the start of a Sunday morning trail run. I took my dog and two other runners and made my way to Dry Creek trail head, a few miles up Bogus Basin road. Since then, a lot has changed but many similarities and symmetries remain.

When the year ended, I felt no need to drive as soon as the clock ran out. Instead, I continued with my schedule until not driving would prevent me from doing something I wanted to do. It happened a few days later when it was time for kayak polo. By the time I passed off Avery, I didn’t have enough time to bike to Kirkland before the game, so I jumped in the car. It felt a bit weird to be behind the wheel again, but not as weird as I expected. Made it to the game on time and had loads of fun on the water.

Reflecting on just the bookend drives of my car-less year, I love that both trips were to go places to spend time outside with others doing physical activities. That seemed to reflect in many of the trips I took while biking over the last year. The bike gave me plenty of opportunities to get outside with others and took me to many more places. I can’t wait to see where my bike gets me over the next year.

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Quad Bike

About the same time I gave up driving for a year, the school where I work was offered the pieces of an old quad bike. This beauty was designed with four wheels and four seats. The front two riders had pedals while the back two were just along for the ride. One of the front riders even had a steering wheel with gear shifters for both people and control of the brakes. That’s at least how it appeared to be designed. That’s not how we got it.

First, none of the wheels were attached and all were missing bushings or bearings. Next, the chains were heavily rusted and not attached. Also, both derailleurs were broken and all the cables for shifters and brake were bad. It was a perfect project for my high school students to tackle.

One group got started shortly after we moved into our building. They pulled off the chains and cleaned them up. One was salvageable but the other had to be replaced. Next, they wanted to get the wheels on so it could at least roll. After realizing the holes in the center of the wheels was much too large for the axle they were supposed to attach to, the students learned all about bearing and where to get them in Boise.

Excited about getting the quad bike moving, four of them went to the bearing shop in town. Once there, they were much more interested in the free hot chocolate, but eventually found someone to help them. Totaling up all the parts they needed, they were about $4 short. Luckily, the guys at the shop were so impressed with their enthusiasm, they called the rest a donation.

They came back so excited and quickly got three of the wheels on. Unfortunately, one of the wheel had a slight lip inside and the bushings didn’t fit. They tried many different ways of making it fit, but nothing worked. They got discouraged. Then the snow of our epic winter arrived and no one wanted to bike anywhere.

As the snow melted, another group of students picked up the task. They too tried to make the bushing fit into the wheel. Rather than continue to sand it down or buy a new one, they took a different approach. They decided to use PVC pipe. They found a scrap piece in the shop that was close to the right size and much easier to sand. Within an hour, the quad bike was rolling. They fixed up the chains and were able to pedal. Then (and only then) they realized the brakes didn’t work.

Luckily, they never built up enough speed for the lack of brakes to be too dangerous. With a new cable and housing, they were able to get that working too. Now there’s talk of adding a shell to it or taking out the back seats to make it a flatbed for hauling stuff or adding underglow and spinners or… or… or…


This text intentionally left teeny-tiny: Also, many thanks to Elise for her hard work on this and because if I don’t thank her, she’ll get upset. 😉

I’m excited to see where they take it from here and happy to see so many of them excited about a bike.

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Opera Exchange

Biking everywhere gives you many opportunities to meet the people around you while commuting. Friday was a perfect example.

Our yard backs up to Hill Road (a busy residential street in North Boise), which gives us opportunities to hear many interesting snippets of conversation while sitting on our porch as people walk by on the other side of the fence. We even started recording the best ones, such as “I don’t know why, I haven’t had any narcotics since Friday” or “Do you guys have bike… thing to raise the seat?” or even “While I’m not a huge proponent of child abuse, I don’t…” which I must admit, I’m extremely curious how that sentence ended. But not curious enough to follow them down the street to find out.

One of our favorite things overheard on Hill Road is Opera Guy. A few summers ago, we were in the habit of sitting on the back porch when we got home from work. A few times a week, we would hear a car driving down Hill with the music cranked up. Oddly, it wasn’t rap or metal, it was opera blasting out the open windows at levels I’m used to hearing only jet planes. We thoroughly enjoyed this and loved the expression on our friends’ faces when they heard it for the first time. Unfortunately, we were never quick enough to see who this was.

The following summer, I was walking home from a coffee shop in Hyde Park. On the half mile walk, I was in my own little world until I heard, in the distance, opera. I stopped and spun round, looking for the source. I don’t remember what type of car or driver I was expecting, probably a BMW or Lexus with the driver in an Italian suit (I’d be able to notice that as he drove by). What I do remember was being shocked at source, once I spotted it. It was a large silver-gray pickup truck with a trailer and stickers indicating the owner was in construction. I love it when my expectations are completely wrong. It implies there’s a much more interesting story than the one I constructed in my head.

Over the years, I’ve seen this truck and Opera Guy several more times. Each time, I’m curious to know more about him, but he’s driving and I don’t have anything to open the conversation with.

Friday morning, I was biking into work. I got to the intersection of 13th and Fort where I had to wait for the light to change. As I stood there, thinking about my schedule for the day to come, I heard familiar music. It was Johnny Cash’s Ghost Riders in the Sky. My head nodded to the music as the car approached. I turned to see it was Opera Guy driving. I had my in.

“What, no opera today?” I asked through the open window.

“What?” he replied as he turned down the music.

“No opera today?”

He laughed. “No, not today. Hey, you like opera?”

“Sure, who doesn’t?” I admit, this was more to keep the conversation going. I don’t listen to it much but I enjoyed the two operas I’ve seen.

“You just made my day. Here” He reaches out the window to hand me a CD of Kathleen Battle recordings.

Then the light changes and we go our separate directions. It was a short interaction, but reminded me of two things. First, I love the oddness of Boise’s North End where something like that could happen and the cars behind us didn’t seem to notice or care that we were delaying traffic a little. The second thing is how wonderful it is to bike everywhere. This would never have happened if I’d been in a car. Conversations like this (although usually without the exchange of opera) happen all the time when I’m biking. It helps me feel like I’m connected with the people around me and could talk to any of them. Also, it kind of made me want to put speakers on my bike and blast my audio selection to the world. I’m just not sure everyone would appreciate hearing a podcast about design. I guess there’s only one way to find out.

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One Event

The rib is starting to heal and the ice is finally melting. Many of my friends who enjoy biking but did not make a deal to only bike during one of the worst winters on record, are starting to get back on the road. It’s great to see other bikers out again.

I’m starting to adventure out again to friends’ homes and to run errands I’ve been putting off until the roads improve. What I’ve noticed is that my legs are not used to riding far or fast anymore and it’s taking a bit of time to get them back to where they were before Boise’s Snow-pocalypse. This was brought clearly into view a week ago at the One Event.

The non-profit school I’m working at holds its annual fund-raising event in February every year. This is my first year with them and my first time seeing the event, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. As details trickled in, I started wondering if biking to the event was the best idea or if I should look at other options (car-pooling or ???). It turns out that they hold the event at the Idaho Fair Grounds. This is a little over five miles away and during the summer, a pleasant ride along the Greenbelt. At the time of the event, the river-side Greenbelt was covered in a 1-2″ thick sheet of ice. The only other route I new required a lot of biking on busy roads. I was not looking forward to it.

As the event approached, I was asked if I could help with set up the day before the event. I started looking at different routes and a co-worker offered to pick me up on his way out since he was driving right past my house. I thanked him for the offer and said I’d let him know. The night before setup, I found an alternate route (it should have been obvious, but I was looking for a route on the other side of the river). The next morning, I was ready early and he was running late, so I opted to ride out to the fair grounds. It was cold but sunny. It turned out to be longer than I was used to at this point and one of the best rides I’d had in two months. It felt great.

As we continued hanging banners and tucking extension cords out of sight in the rafters, I kept looking at my watch. This was a school day and despite helping with a school event, I still had to teach coding in the afternoon. Assuming it would take 30 minutes to get back, I tried to finish my task with enough time to not be late. That never happens and I got away from the fair grounds with only 24 minutes until the start of my class. I haven’t peddled so hard since November. My legs burned. I hit every light just as it was turning yellow pushing me a little faster. I made it back to school in 23 minutes… and found that the school day was running behind schedule. I sat down, caught my breath and marveled at the fun of biking fast.

After coding, I planned to work with students at school then go home. Another staffer asked if I could attend a meeting with her and some of the VIPs in town for the event. It would be two hours after school so I decided to stay there rather than go home and come back… Then I got a text asking me to get back out at the event setup to help with one more thing, so I jumped back on the bike and rode. This time slower than the last ride but still with an eye on the time. I didn’t want to be late for the other meeting.

Like before, setup took longer than expected and I had to race back. Again I pushed myself much harder than my legs wanted to go and again I made it back in about 23 minutes… and again, the other people were late. I should have assumed that a group of VIPs getting a tour of Boise would be late for a meeting. I’d much rather be outside in Boise than in a meeting and I think most of them felt the same way.

Once the meeting wrapped up, I took my tired legs and slowly peddled home. My longest ride in the previous two months had been four or five miles of slow, steady riding. On this day, I’d done almost 25 and about half of it was as fast as I could go.

The next morning, I woke up a little sore. Still excited to be able to do more biking again, I got ready for the One Event and jumped back on the bike. The ride to the fair grounds was the slowest so far, but it still felt great to be riding longer distances.


One of the centerpieces the students
and I made for the event.

The event was amazing. The students presented the whole thing. There wasn’t a single adult who stood up on stage the entire night. Their speeches were inspiring and their dedication shined.

As the guests left, we started cleaning up and celebrating a successful event. By the time we were all done, it was nearly midnight and I still had the five mile ride home. I was exhausted. I got on the bike, tuned out everything except what was ahead of me and started to ride.

A block and a half from home, I saw one of the few cars still on the road. I had a stop sign but as I slowed, so did they. I put my foot down to show they had the right of way and I wasn’t going to take that. They completely stopped and flashed their high beams. “It’s the middle of the night. Don’t be nice, just follow the rules of the road!” I muttered under my breath. They weren’t going anywhere so I started into the intersection. Then I heard, “IT’S WOODY!!!” I turned to see the car was full of One Stone students. As they approached the intersection, the driver thought, “What sort of crazy person would be out biking at this hour of the night. They’d have to be as weird as Woody… oh wait…” They were all still very excited from the event and were headed for celebratory waffles. I wished them well and went home to collapse.

One of my hopes about this year of biking is that these student, who I work with every day, see that even when you have places to be in a hurry or need to get somewhere in the middle of the night, you don’t have to drive. A bike is still a great option. This event reminded me of that and I hope it convinced some of them as well.

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