Two Wheels Good

Title: Two Wheels Good: The History and Mystery of The Bicycle

Author: Jody Rosen

Completed: Sept 2022 (Full list of books)

Overview: If there is nothing in this book that makes you want to go out for a bike ride, nothing will. It has a many stories about bikes and biking I’d heard before but so many that I hadn’t. Who knew that bikes were so popular during the Klondike Gold Rush? Some of the later chapters rambled on a little but overall, this was such an enjoyable look at (arguably) the best form of land transportation ever.

Highlights:

  • During the last years of the century there were countless efforts to merge the bicycle and the airship. Newspapers and scientific quarterlies announced the inventions of “the Aerial-Cycle,” “the Luftvelociped,” “the Pegasipede.” There were designs for bikes with whirling rotors, with whipping fan blades, with kite-shaped sails; there were proposals for dirigibles powered by squadrons of cyclists.
  • “Bicycling…has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world,” said Susan B. Anthony in 1896. “It would not be at all strange,” wrote a Detroit Tribune editorialist that same year, “if history came to the conclusion that the perfection of the bicycle was the greatest incident in the nineteenth century.”
  • There are approximately one billion cars in the world today. There are twice as many bikes. The number of bicycles manufactured this year in China alone will exceed the total worldwide production of automobiles. The cities and towns we inhabit, our economies, our laws are designed for cars; we hop between continents on airplanes. Yet we live on a bicycle planet.
  • “Get a bicycle,” wrote Mark Twain in 1886. “You will not regret it, if you live.”
  • Among the first major cycling organizations were socialist bicycle clubs in 1890s Britain, which hailed the bicycle as an egalitarian “people’s nag.” Through the decades, the bicycle has retained its countercultural potency.
  • Governments have long recognized the bicycle as a means of resistance. One of Adolf Hitler’s first acts upon assuming power, in 1933, was to smash Germany’s cycling union, the Bund Deutscher Radfahrer, which was associated with anti-Nazi political parties and was capable of assembling tens of thousands of cyclists in the streets.
  • Increasingly, public opinion is tilting toward a belief long held by cycling advocates: cars are killing us. Researchers say that motor vehicles are the largest net contributor to climate change. The problem will not be solved by electric or hybrid automobiles, since tire wear and other non-tailpipe pollutants account for a large percentage of vehicle emissions.
  • In earlier stages of wheel development, spokes were threaded from hub to rim radially, but designers figured out that a tangential pattern—in which the spokes stretch out from the hub at angles in an overlapping configuration—made the wheel more resistant to warping. Also, tangential spoking is an eye-catcher.
  • A key figure is Jules-Pierre Suriray, the Parisian bicycle builder who patented the ball bearing, that “atom of the Machine Age,” essential to the operation of not just bikes and cars but everything from fishing reels to air conditioners to computer hard drives to the Hubble telescope and the Mars rover.
  • Charles Sheldon, the American Congregationalist minister whose 1896 novel In His Steps popularized the phrase “What would Jesus do?,” took the position that the bicycle was the ethical choice: “I think Jesus might ride a wheel if He were in our place, in order to save His own strength and the beast of burden.”
  • Whenever a healthful amusement becomes a mania, it ceases to be healthful. The doctors have invented the word bicychloris to designate a condition in which the blood is impoverished and the vitality of the system lowered from excessive wheeling.
  • Philip Carr-Gomm has written that people who protest in the nude “convey a complex message: they challenge the status quo by acting provocatively, and they empower themselves and their cause by showing that they are fearless and have nothing to hide. But at the same time they reveal the vulnerability and frailty of the human being.” The WNBR embraces the direct-action tactics of Critical Mass; its rhetoric links nudity and sexuality to environmentalism, safe streets, and anti-automobilism. “By cycling naked we declare our confidence in the beauty and individuality of our bodies,” reads the WNBR mission statement. “We face automobile traffic with our naked bodies as the best way of defending our dignity and exposing the vulnerability faced by cyclists and pedestrians on our streets as well as the negative consequences we all face due to dependence on oil, and other forms of non-renewable energy.”
  • the only people getting wealthy in the Klondike were the early stakeholders and entrepreneurs who had established businesses catering to the gold rush hordes. One of these was Frederick Trump, Donald Trump’s grandfather, an immigrant who had dodged the draft in Germany, fled to the United States, and made a small fortune opening hotels in the Yukon riverbank towns of Bennett and Whitehorse.
  • Klondike cyclists claimed another advantage over horses and dog teams: speed. If the weather cooperated, bicycle riders could travel faster than anyone, up to one hundred miles per day on flat stretches of trail, about twice the distance covered by prospectors with dog teams.
  • there is a responsibility to create the conditions for happiness.” Dorji said: “When we say ‘happiness,’ we have to be very clear that it’s not fun, pleasure, thrills, excitement, all the temporary fleeting senses. It is permanent contentment. That lies within the self. Because the bigger house, the faster car, the nicer clothes—they don’t give you that contentment. GNH means good governance. GNH means preservation of traditional culture. And it means sustainable socioeconomic development. Remember that GNH is a pun on GDP, gross domestic product. We are making a distinction.”
  • Bhutan’s success in combating the Covid-19 pandemic—only three Covid deaths, through the end of 2021—has been ascribed to geography and topography: the Himalayas are great social distancers. But the efficiency with which the government vaccinated nearly the entire adult population underscores another kind of Bhutanese exceptionalism, the bureaucratic competency and social cohesion that shield a small developing nation from the pathogens, and the pathologies, plaguing the theoretically more sophisticated wider world.
  • Tshering Tobgay, for one, doesn’t see Bhutan’s topography as an impediment. “In fact, our terrain in Bhutan is bicycle-friendly,” Tobgay said. “If it’s all flat, it’s no fun.”
  • For three straight years—1972, 1973, and 1974—bicycles outsold cars in the United States.
  • In 1992, Gallagher estimated that there were seven million passenger trips taken by rickshaw in Dhaka each day, covering a distance of eleven million miles. These totals, Gallagher noted, “nearly double the output of London’s underground railway.” In the decades since, Dhaka’s population has more than tripled, and the statistics have surely spiked accordingly.
  • To teach a novice how to keep a bike stable and moving forward, Karl von Drais’s invention turns out to be far preferable to a bicycle rigged with training wheels. History’s original bike has returned as a starter bike.
  • Eventually, the bicycle would become something close to compulsory: along with a watch and sewing machine and radio, it was one of the proverbial “three rounds and a sound,” the must-have possessions for all Chinese adults who wished to get married and start a family.
  • a woman could be heard screaming at the police, asking why bikes were being taken and how protesters were supposed to travel home. Another piece of viral footage showed three policemen clubbing a cyclist with batons on a Manhattan street. It was unclear whether the man was arrested or what became of his bicycle. In the days that followed, the NYPD’s anti-bicycle actions continued. The Daily News reporter Catherina Gioino tweeted that the police had been ordered to “focus on the bicyclists.”
  • NYPD has a long history of hostility to cyclists, especially cyclists who are also protesters. For years, the police used aggressive, sometimes violent tactics to sweep up participants in Critical Mass rallies. In 2008, an NYPD officer body-slammed a Critical Mass rider; the cop later received a felony conviction for this action and for filing a false criminal complaint in an attempt to frame the cyclist. In 2010, the city agreed to pay a settlement of nearly $1 million to eighty-three Critical Mass riders who had been wrongly detained or arrested between 2004 and 2006.
  • The manual offers examples illustrating the difference between “peaceful” crowds (“Parades or details such as New Year’s Eve”) and “violent” crowds (“Occupy Wall Street, BLM movement, Anti-Trump Demonstrations”), and provides instruction in a number of “aggressive” cycling maneuvers (the “Power Slide,” the “Dynamic Dismount”) that bike officers use to control and subdue.
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Early Seattle Profiles

Title: Early Seattle Profiles

Author: Henry “HB” Broderick

Completed: Aug 2022 (Full list of books)

Overview: This book was quoted in a podcast I listen to called “Dim Lights & Stiff Drinks” about dive bars in Seattle. They were reviewing bars around Pioneer Square and quoted HB’s description of the area: “Perhaps never in all history, certainly not in America, has there ever existed such a massive collection of the demimonde grouped in a restricted area.” With such a colorful look at early Seattle, I had to know more. It took longer to find a copy of this book than it took to read it. It was published in 1959 and has first and second hand accounts of events happening back to the 1880s. Some of the stories I had read before and others were new, but overall it was enjoyable to think back to what my city was like 100+ years ago. Worth reading and while you’re at it, add Dim Lights & Stiff Drinks to your podcast queue. It’s not the most polished and professionally produced podcast but it sure makes me want to get and explore all the old bars of Seattle.

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The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

Title: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

Author: Mark Manson

Completed: July 2022 (Full list of books)

Overview: This book came up in several reading lists I’d seen recently. The first chapter or two had a very different voice than I’m used to with books. His use of seemed to focus on shock value more than actual content. After that, it read much more like a stoic self-help book. It was not a bad book and I’m glad I read it, but not one of my favorites.

Highlights:

  • A confident man doesn’t feel a need to prove that he’s confident. A rich woman doesn’t feel a need to convince anybody that she’s rich. Either you are or you are not. And if you’re dreaming of something all the time, then you’re reinforcing the same unconscious reality over and over: that you are not that.
  • You are constantly bombarded with messages to give a fuck about everything, all the time. Give a fuck about a new TV. Give a fuck about having a better vacation than your coworkers. Give a fuck about buying that new lawn ornament. Give a fuck about having the right kind of selfie stick. Why? My guess: because giving a fuck about more stuff is good for business.
  • Wanting positive experience is a negative experience; accepting negative experience is a positive experience. It’s what the philosopher Alan Watts used to refer to as “the backwards law”—the idea that the more you pursue feeling better all the time, the less satisfied you become, as pursuing something only reinforces the fact that you lack it in the first place. The more you desperately want to be rich, the more poor and unworthy you feel, regardless of how much money you actually make.
  • As the existential philosopher Albert Camus said (and I’m pretty sure he wasn’t on LSD at the time): “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” Or put more simply: Don’t try.
  • I once heard an artist say that when a person has no problems, the mind automatically finds a way to invent some. I think what most people—especially educated, pampered middle-class white people—consider “life problems” are really just side effects of not having anything more important to worry about.
  • this is what’s so dangerous about a society that coddles itself more and more from the inevitable discomforts of life: we lose the benefits of experiencing healthy doses of pain, a loss that disconnects us from the reality of the world around us.
  • Happiness comes from solving problems. The keyword here is “solving.” If you’re avoiding your problems or feel like you don’t have any problems, then you’re going to make yourself miserable. If you feel like you have problems that you can’t solve, you will likewise make yourself miserable. The secret sauce is in the solving of the problems, not in not having problems in the first place.
  • What determines your success isn’t, “What do you want to enjoy?” The relevant question is, “What pain do you want to sustain?” The path to happiness is a path full of shitheaps and shame. You have to choose something. You can’t have a pain-free life.
  • our struggles determine our successes. Our problems birth our happiness, along with slightly better, slightly upgraded problems. See: it’s a never-ending upward spiral. And if you think at any point you’re allowed to stop climbing, I’m afraid you’re missing the point. Because the joy is in the climb itself.
  • If suffering is inevitable, if our problems in life are unavoidable, then the question we should be asking is not “How do I stop suffering?” but “Why am I suffering—for what purpose?”
  • Self-awareness is like an onion. There are multiple layers to it, and the more you peel them back, the more likely you’re going to start crying at inappropriate times.
  • the first layer of the self-awareness onion is a simple understanding of one’s emotions.
  • The second layer of the self-awareness onion is an ability to ask why we feel certain emotions.
  • The third level is our personal values: Why do I consider this to be success/failure? How am I choosing to measure myself? By what standard am I judging myself and everyone around me? This level, which takes constant questioning and effort, is incredibly difficult to reach. But it’s the most important, because our values determine the nature of our problems, and the nature of our problems determines the quality of our lives.
  • We don’t always control what happens to us. But we always control how we interpret what happens to us, as well as how we respond. Whether we consciously recognize it or not, we are always responsible for our experiences. It’s impossible not to be. Choosing to not consciously interpret events in our lives is still an interpretation of the events of our lives. Choosing to not respond to the events in our lives is still a response to the events in our lives. Even if you get run over by a clown car and pissed on by a busload of schoolchildren, it’s still your responsibility to interpret the meaning of the event and choose a response.
  • “With great responsibility comes great power.” The more we choose to accept responsibility in our lives, the more power we will exercise over our lives. Accepting responsibility for our problems is thus the first step to solving them.
  • But there are also problems that we aren’t at fault for, yet we are still responsible for them. For example, if you woke up one day and there was a newborn baby on your doorstep, it would not be your fault that the baby had been put there, but the baby would now be your responsibility. You would have to choose what to do. And whatever you ended up choosing (keeping it, getting rid of it, ignoring it, feeding it to a pit bull), there would be problems associated with your choice—and you would be responsible for those as well.
  • Here’s one way to think about the distinction between the two concepts. Fault is past tense. Responsibility is present tense. Fault results from choices that have already been made. Responsibility results from the choices you’re currently making, every second of every day.
  • Growth is an endlessly iterative process. When we learn something new, we don’t go from “wrong” to “right.” Rather, we go from wrong to slightly less wrong.
  • My recommendation: don’t be special; don’t be unique. Redefine your metrics in mundane and broad ways. Choose to measure yourself not as a rising star or an undiscovered genius. Choose to measure yourself not as some horrible victim or dismal failure. Instead, measure yourself by more mundane identities: a student, a partner, a friend, a creator. The narrower and rarer the identity you choose for yourself, the more everything will seem to threaten you. For that reason, define yourself in the simplest and most ordinary ways possible.
  • Question #3: Would being wrong create a better or a worse problem than my current problem, for both myself and others?
  • If your metric for the value “success by worldly standards” is “Buy a house and a nice car,” and you spend twenty years working your ass off to achieve it, once it’s achieved the metric has nothing left to give you. Then say hello to your midlife crisis, because the problem that drove you your entire adult life was just taken away from you. There are no other opportunities to keep growing and improving, and yet it’s growth that generates happiness, not a long list of arbitrary achievements.
  • When I was in high school, my math teacher Mr. Packwood used to say, “If you’re stuck on a problem, don’t sit there and think about it; just start working on it. Even if you don’t know what you’re doing, the simple act of working on it will eventually cause the right ideas to show up in your head.”
  • If we follow the “do something” principle, failure feels unimportant. When the standard of success becomes merely acting—when any result is regarded as progress and important, when inspiration is seen as a reward rather than a prerequisite—we propel ourselves ahead. We feel free to fail, and that failure moves us forward.
  • Without conflict, there can be no trust. Conflict exists to show us who is there for us unconditionally and who is just there for the benefits. No one trusts a yes-man.
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My experience at ToorCamp

The prime dome for presentations

A few months ago, friends mentioned that they were going to ToorCamp and thought it was the sort of event I’d enjoy. As I looked into “The American Hacker Camp: for hackers, makers, breaks & shakers” I started getting very excited about going and mentioned it to someone at work. He and I help teachers cover computer security, networking, and robotics in their classes. This was a perfect connection and he thought work should pay my registration which sounded great to me. My boss had two requests: first, bring back lots of knowledge to share with our students, and second, pass out some promotional pens in the hopes we could encourage someone there to apply for a tech teaching position. I admit, I wasn’t super excited about passing out these pens, they felt a little cheesy to me, but it’s a small price to pay.

Since ToorCamp is held on Orcas island, the primary way to get there is a ferry from Anacortes. But I’ve been doing a lot more kayaking this year so the 11 mile crossing sounded much more interesting. That meant everything I planned to have for the five day event had to fit inside my kayak. After finding out that I could easily get food there, I decided to pack fun stuff rather than food. This included ~15kg of pewter, an electric melt furnace, and everything to make stomp rockets. Clearly these are more important than food anyways.

The first lesson I learned was not to trust the person who told me to launch my kayak from the ferry terminal. This meant carrying my boat, paddle, all my gear, too much pewter, and those silly pens about 3/8 mile across the ferry loading lanes to get to a small bay. Instead, go to the Washington Park Boat Launch less than a mile away. With the difficulty launching, I got on the water late which meant the tides were not what I expected. On the paddle over, I got on the wrong side of an island and struggled to correct that. At one point, I’d been paddling for about ten minutes and didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere. As soon as I stopped to look around and verify I was going the right direction, my GPS announced, “Activity resumed.” I was only moving when I stopped paddling? That wasn’t good. I eventually made it around the southern tip of the island and started paddling with the tide which made everything much easier.

I eventually got to camp and set up my tent in a corner of a field labelled “Misfit Toys village.” It sounded like the perfect spot for me. After registration/check-in, I wandered around to get a feel for the camp which was divided into two main areas. Lower camp was where a lot of the activities and socialization took place. The upper camp was mostly tent and villages with the prime dome for main stage presentations in the upper corner of the upper camp. This meant a lot of back and forth over the next few days, but also gave me an excuse to see what others brought to camp to share.

My Shadybucks card just after I embossed my card number

As the official program and all the unofficial activities that groups brought began the next day, I quickly met a bunch of people who I would continue to connect with throughout camp. I also got my official Shadybucks credit card which I had to emboss myself. This monetary system was just for camp and even had instructions warning you not to hack the system… although it mentioned that such hack would probably be beneficial to you. By the end of camp one of my friends had realized that the “bank” had a rounding error in its program. If he transferred 0.005 Shadybucks to himself, it rounded up to the closest penny. With each transaction, he made half a penny so he quickly wrote a script to transfer two cents a second.

ShadyTel, the extremely local phone company, was also busy running phone lines to any tent that had the correct paperwork filed. I wasn’t sure why I needed a phone line to my tent but I was sure I did. Although it took some time, our village finally got phone service which not only allowed us to place important calls (more on that in a moment) but we could also get dial up internet service set up in the field. Through this we could access the hacker version of capture the flag on a bulletin board service. I didn’t spend enough time trying to hack the BBS, but it was fun to see how far others were able to get.

There were plenty of important places to call at camp. You could call to request a song on the pirate radio station or check on your Beerocracy paperwork or call the phone booth and just see who picks up. But, the most popular number to call was 4-NFT because as everyone knows, NFT stands for Nifty Flying Tacos and this is how you would place an order. Let them know how many tacos you wanted and where you were at camp, within minutes, a quad-copter with a basket underneath was zipping towards you carrying tacos. Just wait for them to hover close enough to grab the tacos and they’d zip back for the next order.

Even though this was my first time going, I knew I couldn’t just arrive and receive content without offering something of mine to the group. It is a maker gathering so I brought stuff to make. On the second day, I pulled out my mini electric melt furnace, several kilos of pewter, and some floral foam. I offered an impromptu pewter casting workshop for anyone who wanted to participate. They came in, grabbed a piece of foam, and pressed or carved their design into it. Some even used the CTE pens to design and carve the foam. Once they were happy with the look of it, we carved a pour hole and two vent holes then let the pewter flow. Different designs had varying degrees of success, but overall, I think they had some fun. We had several heart designs cast; we cloned one Shadybucks credit card; and even cast the world’s first two Shadycoins. The virtual currency was now physical. We didn’t get though as pewter as I’d hoped but about 15-18 people made castings.

The next day, I took my other activity over to the kids camp area. I had met a couple of the kids already and encouraged them to make stomp rockets out of a piece of paper, masking tape, and a paperclip. When they launched them, the rockets went about 15 feet. As they went back to improve their designs, I encouraged other kids to participate. Two hours later, I was exhausted and we’d built over 100 rockets. The best ones were flying about 130′ and most of the kids at ToorCamp had built at least one rocket. We even convinced a few of the parents to build them as well.

So many of the workshops I attended were great. I got to build a Blue Box which was used in the ’70s and ’80s to trick the phone systems into allowing you to make free long distance phone calls. We explored desktop milling machines for creating custom circuit boards. I heard from a team developing autonomous sailboats they plan to use for moving cargo throughout the inside passage and around rural Alaskan islands. We got a crash course in a block-based programming language for machine learning. All of these are topics that have come up in student interest surveys back at work (ok, maybe not the Blue Boxes, but they’re still cool). I also got to practice my lock picking and sample some good whisky. Through it all, I was able to pass out or trade away a lot of the CTE pens I’d brought. They turned out to be pretty popular with the crowd at ToorCamp.

The paddle back to Anacortes was much less eventful and significantly less fear-inducing than the paddle over. On the drive home, I started planning projects I could bring to the next ToorCamp in 2024. Whatever I do, I’ll have to leave room to pack more CTE pens.

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Your Move

Title: Your Move: What Board Games Teach Us about Life

Author: Joan Moriarity & Jonathan Kay

Completed: July 2022 (Full list of books)

Overview: This book had been on my To-Read list for a couple of years but took a while to get to the top. It was a fun look at table-top/board games and how we can develop skills through gaming to help in other areas of our lives. It was also (maybe even more so) a quick introduction to a large variety of games. One of the authors helps people find games to play at a game cafe. Parts of this felt like the conversation she would have with you, if you weren’t able to provide her with any feedback about your interests. The book explores different games and different types of games. As far as a book about the benefits of gaming, I think Reality is Broken does a better job, but this book got me excited about going out and playing more games which seems like exactly what it was intended to do.

Highlights:

  • I believe this truth applies to nearly every game. If you are an absolute perfectionist, there is no room for fun. Likewise, if you are too bored or lazy to even bother trying, it spoils the game for the whole table. To enjoy play, to be playful, the freedom to fail is as essential as the will to succeed.
  • almost every Eurogame is designed so that final scoring comes only at the end of the game, after some defined milestone or turn limit so that every player can enjoy the experience of being a (nominal) contender until the final moments. If this sounds somewhat Euro-socialistic, that is because it is
  • pre-twentieth-century, track-based games tended to share one thing in common: your goal would be to lead a virtuous life. This, too, was abandoned by game designers in the postwar period in favor of material wealth.
  • Whenever you sit down to play a game, whether you realize it or not, you are entering into an unspoken agreement with your fellow players. There is no universally agreed-upon text for the play contract. But if there were, it might include these basic precepts, which flow from our discussion of the magic circle in the book’s first chapter: 1. I agree to abide by the rules of the game as I understand them; no cheating. 2. I agree to take the game seriously enough to make a sincere effort to win; no throwing the game. 3. I agree to not take the game so seriously that it will affect my real-life relationships with my fellow players; no behaving like a jackass. The problem is that the second and third points sometimes come into conflict.
  • One of the main reasons some bosses micromanage is that they do not have a lot of work on their own desks. Give a boss something to do, and she will tend to give more autonomy to her minions. Likewise, minions who are tired of being told how to tie their shoelaces may rebel against corporate higher-ups by hoarding data within their fiefdoms and throttling the flow of information. The boss cannot micromanage a department she cannot fully survey or understand.
  • playing games really can provide important lessons for people running companies. In particular, cooperative games such as Pandemic teach us that group dynamics can get more complicated, not less when people are trying to co-operate rather than compete. This is important because most businesses, NGOs, government agencies, social clubs and even families can be thought of in some way as cooperative projects, even if real life tends to lack the well-defined rules and victory conditions you would find in a cooperative board game.
  • Critics of capitalism often decry the “greed” that animates successful entrepreneurs. The real problem, however, is not the amount of money made by people at the top; it is the systematic suppression of people at the bottom. The real-life equivalent of the Monopoly player who has to mortgage all his money-making assets to pay his debts is the hand-to-mouth day laborer who, unable to pay his car insurance, loses his car and, unable to drive to his job, is unable to pay his rent.
  • To experience the board game version of this kind of misery vortex in Monopoly is to appreciate the advantages of the welfare state, which, when it is functioning properly, does not just take money from rich people and give it to poor people. It also softens the iterative feedback dynamics within the system so as to ensure that minor nudges—a lost job, a criminal conviction, a divorce, a medical setback—do not create feedback effects that ultimately produce a full-blown personal catastrophe.
  • While we all know that medieval Europeans had metal pots and swords, few first-time Greenland players will know that Indigenous hunters used a remarkable device called a seal scratcher to simulate the sound of a ringed seal clawing its way through an ice sheet, thereby signaling to other seals that the coast was clear. Greenland is full of marvelous little discoveries like this.
  • the only way to get really good at Scattergories is to become a horrifyingly inhuman engine of misery and suffering. In other words, the most effective way to play Scattergories is to harm your opponents in real life. The game encourages, indeed, demands that its players violate the magic circle. For this reason, Scattergories is not merely a bad game and unhealthy for your relationships. From my point of view, as someone who considers the play space sacred, it is sacrilegious.
  • As a Jew whose ancestors were slaughtered by the Nazis, I know something about the crimes against humanity perpetrated by Hitler and his minions. I will admit that it has felt strange to take the German side in a war game but even that sense of unease has its educational side. Notwithstanding the monstrous nature of the Nazi regime, the young men who took up arms for the regime were flesh-and-blood human beings whose manner of warfare shaped the history of Europe. They, and their ways, deserve study for their own sake.
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A Psalm for the Wild-Built

Title: A Psalm for the Wild-Built

Author: Becky Chambers

Completed: June 2022 (Full list of books)

Overview: I typically read one fiction book each year. I have no real reason for this other than I noticed a few years ago that it seemed to be a pattern so I decided to make it an informal rule for myself. After reading the Three Body Problem trilogy over the last several years, I didn’t have any fiction books jumping out at me. Not sure where I found this but really enjoyed it. It’s a fast read and had a similar futuristic-environmentalist feel of Ecotopia. I also don’t usually take notes in fiction books, but I felt this one had a few really good lines. The second book in this series comes out next month and I think it will be my first read of 2023.

Highlights:

  • Sometimes, a person reaches a point in their life when it becomes absolutely essential to get the fuck out of the city.
  • all of it could be boiled down to listen to people, give tea.
  • The whole reason they never went into those fields before is because they were afraid. They lived under constant fear of a wild dog jumping out and eating them or their young at any moment. That is an awful way to live. It must have been such a relief to be free of predators and eat whatever the hell you wanted. But that was the exact opposite of what the ecosystem needed. The ecosystem required the elk to be afraid in order to stay in balance. But elk don’t want to be afraid. Fear is miserable, as is pain. As is hunger. Every animal is hardwired to do absolutely anything to stop those feelings as fast as possible. We’re all just trying to be comfortable, and well fed, and unafraid. It wasn’t the elk’s fault. The elk just wanted to relax.”
  • “So, the paradox is that the ecosystem as a whole needs its participants to act with restraint in order to avoid collapse, but the participants themselves have no inbuilt mechanism to encourage such behavior.” “Other than fear.” “Other than fear, which is a feeling you want to avoid or stop at all costs.”
  • It is difficult for anyone born and raised in human infrastructure to truly internalize the fact that your view of the world is backward. Even if you fully know that you live in a natural world that existed before you and will continue long after, even if you know that the wilderness is the default state of things, and that nature is not something that only happens in carefully curated enclaves between towns, something that pops up in empty spaces if you ignore them for a while, even if you spend your whole life believing yourself to be deeply in touch with the ebb and flow, the cycle, the ecosystem as it actually is, you will still have trouble picturing an untouched world. You will still struggle to understand that human constructs are carved out and overlaid, that these are the places that are the in-between, not the other way around.
  • “‘Without constructs, you will unravel few mysteries. Without knowledge of the mysteries, your constructs will fail. These pursuits are what make us, but without comfort, you will lack the strength to sustain either.’”
  • the Child Gods aren’t actively involved in our lives. They’re … not like that. They can’t break the Parent Gods’ laws. They provide inspiration, not intervention. If we want change, or good fortune, or solace, we have to create it for ourselves.
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Mediocre

Title: Mediocre

Author: Ijeoma Oluo

Completed: June 2022 (Full list of books)

Overview: There aren’t a lot of authors I return to for new books. Many seem to cover similar topics in a slightly different light and present it as something completely new. Ijeoma does not. She presents a similar message is in each that I’ve read, “The systemic racism in America is hurting everyone and we all need to work to rectify it.” But each book presents that message in a unique way and she includes new examples each time. Depressing as it is that she has so many examples to select from, she again weaves them into a compelling story in this book and I’m sure I’ll be reading another one of her books soon.

Highlights:

  • I am not arguing that every white man is mediocre. I do not believe that any race or gender is predisposed to mediocrity. What I’m saying is that white male mediocrity is a baseline, the dominant narrative, and that everything in our society is centered around preserving white male power regardless of white male skill or talent.
  • How can white men be our born leaders and at the same time so fragile that they cannot handle social progress?
  • White male identity is not inborn—it is built. This identity is not designed to be its most intelligent, most productive, most innovative self. The aspirational image of white maleness is meant to be far less than that. Elite white men don’t need actual competition from rising and striving average white men. Instead, this status becomes a birthright detached from actual achievement. It is an identity that clings to mediocrity.
  • help solve the “Indian Problem” once and for all. Sheridan reached out to William Tecumseh Sherman, who had distinguished himself with his scorched-earth battle tactics during the Civil War, for advice. Sherman observed that wherever buffalo existed, there would be Native people, and they would continue to fight for land wherever the buffalo roamed. Sherman’s advice to Sheridan was simple: remove the buffalo in order to remove the Indian. “I think it would be wise to invite all the sportsmen of England and America there this fall for a Grand Buffalo hunt, and make one grand sweep of them all,” Sherman wrote to Sheridan.
  • In the mid-nineteenth century, white men in England and the United States began to worry about their young men. These young men had it too easy; their wealth and comfort had made them soft. In the United States, a country still fighting to retain the land it had stolen from Native people, this softness could threaten the expansion of America across the continent. The call for white men of America to maintain physical power was not just political; it was a spiritual calling. The rise in popularity of Muscular Christianity in the United States and Europe during this time gave white male elites a religious mandate to conquer both rugby fields and battlefields. According to practitioners of Muscular Christianity, physical softness in men had undermined traditional masculinity and had led to intellectual and moral softness.
  • “Masculine” theater, dime novels, and adult male fiction steeped in grit and violence known as “red-blooded realism” became increasingly popular, in large part due to the threat of the widespread success of women writers like Harriet Beecher Stowe and Susan Warner (whom author Nathaniel Hawthorne dismissed as a “damn’d mob of scribbling women”),13 and of plays geared toward women audiences.
  • “This continent had to be won,” Cody wrote. “We need not waste our time in dealing with any sentimentalist who believes that, on account of any abstract principle, it would have been right to leave this continent to the domain, the hunting ground of squalid savages. It had to be taken by the white race.”18 Manly men were quick to sing the praises of a stage show that opened with the scalping of an Indian and then moved through gunfights, horseback riding, cattle roping, and more fantastic feats of masculinity.
  • After three days, Ryan’s mother relented and began making lunches from home again. Nothing says “American” like a boy making a woman struggle so that he can seem independent.
  • The land was promised to the Paiute people by the federal government in 1872. But the government had no interest in keeping white colonizers from settling there. The Paiute people took their grievances to the US government, and they were rebuffed. White settlers were incredulous that the Paiutes thought they had any right to the land. An editorial in the Idaho Statesman summed up the popular opinion toward Native claims on land: “The idea that the Indians have any right to the soil is ridiculous.… They have no more right to the soil of the Territories of the United States than wolves or coyotes.”
  • Max Eastman was a founder of the New York Men’s League for Woman Suffrage, which sounds pretty cool, right? However, one of the first things Eastman did was make a promise to the men who signed up that “no member would be called upon to do anything. The main function of the league would be to exist.”8 In the battle for women’s suffrage, in which women literally fought and died, men become heroes by simply existing.
  • When Biden, a young, liberal Northern senator whose star was on the rise, came out strongly against busing, it gave other liberal senators permission to do the same. Instead of a stance taken only by the likes of George Wallace in order to preserve white supremacy, antibusing as framed by Biden became an issue that white liberals could stand behind without questioning their racist motives. The majority of Black voters at the time still supported busing to desegregate schools, but their concerns were drowned out by the wants of the white majority.
  • Fewer students overall were entering colleges to join the clergy, but the vast majority of students were still white men from elite families. Universities were seen more as finishing schools for wealthy white men on their path to inheriting leadership than places for practical education. In fact, early degrees were often awarded in graduation ceremonies that recognized the students not by order of achievement or even field of study but by family rank.
  • Lowell claimed that he was not antisemitic or racist; he just believed that the increasing number of Jewish students would drive away students who were antisemitic.
  • Brigham’s test was quickly rolled out to high schools and by 1926 was used by many colleges and universities across the country to help them select students most likely to find academic success in their halls. But by 1930, Brigham had rejected his own eugenics-based tests. He’d found some fundamental flaws in his methodology. In particular, he had come to realize that what his tests showed, instead of intelligence, was the test-taker’s ability to speak English, attend good primary schools, and demonstrate a strong familiarity with white culture. He wrote a refutation of his earlier army research in a paper titled “Intelligence Tests of Immigrant Groups” and later denounced the SAT tests that he had based on that research, but by then it was too late.
  • When the Great Recession hit, higher-education budgets were among the first items to be cut as state budgets plummeted; overall, states collectively reduced their annual education funding by $9 billion in the years 2008–2017. Colleges responded by passing a sizeable amount of their expense burden on to students. Even though the recession is years behind us, most states have not increased their education funding to even prerecession levels. Adjusting for inflation, states still paid on average 10 percent less on education per student in 2017 than they did in 2007.
  • Southern whites tried multiple tactics to get Blacks to stay. They cut the wages of Black workers so they couldn’t afford transportation north. They refused to cash paychecks for Black workers if they had a suspicion that the money would be used to finance travel north. Lawmakers made the recruitment of Black workers to the North illegal and started jailing recruiters who showed up in Southern cities. They printed horror stories of Black Northern life in local papers. They refused to sell bus and train tickets to Black travelers.
  • In 2017, when researchers from Harvard Business School looked at the socioeconomic histories of various regions of the United States to determine which factors supported economic growth and innovation, they found a lot of interesting patterns. They found that places that were more economically and socially open to diversity were more conducive to innovation in business and technology. They also found that having once been a slaveholding state was a good predictor of stagnant economic growth, based on past growth patterns.
  • When Wallace first ran for governor of Alabama in 1958, he conducted a relatively progressive campaign. He was outspoken against the KKK and was even endorsed by the NAACP. And he got his ass handed to him in the primary by an openly racist candidate, John Malcolm Patterson. In defeat, Wallace learned that his path to electoral victory did not lie in peace and love. After the election, Wallace was quoted as saying to his friend Seymore Trammell, “I was outniggered by John Patterson. And I’ll tell you here and now, I will never be outniggered again.”
  • The percentage of women workers increased because as men were losing jobs and income, more women needed to enter the workforce to help provide for their households. If a husband or father lost his job or was forced to take a large pay cut, then the additional income from a wife’s or daughter’s job might just help a family scrape by. (That said, the wages of women were not nearly enough to replace the incomes of men—especially when incomes were reduced by businesses that took advantage of a desperate job market to slash the wages of male workers.) Ironically, employment that was considered “women’s work” or “colored work” (primarily service and domestic work) was far less impacted by the Great Depression.
  • “The Negro was born in depression. It didn’t mean too much to him, the Great American Depression, as you call it. There was no such thing,” recounted Clifford Burke in Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression. “The best he could be is a janitor or a porter or shoeshine boy. It only became official when it hit the white man. If you can tell me the difference between the depression today and the Depression of 1932 for a Black man, I’d like to know it.”
  • possible ways to deal with women workers after the war, including those who wanted to keep working. Possible solutions include treating housework and child-rearing more like “a profession” and establishing training programs on household management. Another is to pay women not to work. The prospect of women staying in the workplace so long as men helped them with household chores in order to lighten their burden is briefly floated but immediately dismissed as too upsetting to the “traditional scheme of things.”
  • When Pao resigned she was replaced by Reddit cofounder Steve Huffman. He didn’t roll back the changes that Pao had implemented—the ones that apparently had caused so much outrage with Redditors—and yet, for some mysterious reason, the outrage ended. The protests stopped; the popular subreddits were taken out of their private settings.
  • “The very foundation of football in this country comes out of fears of ruling-class mediocrity and [fears of] the mediocrity of their own children.”
  • This manipulation is unsurprising when we remember that many NFL teams started as company teams as a way to pacify and control workers. Teams like the Decatur Staleys (which became the Chicago Bears) were developed to keep workers busy and happy, and to foster company loyalty during times of union upheaval.
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Seventy48 Race Report

TL;DR – I finished the Seventy48 race, kayaking 70 miles from Tacoma to Port Townsend in 15.5 hours and I’m ready to sign up for next year.

One of the lessons I’ve learned from doing various long distance events is the distance always feel impossible until you do it, then it feels like something anyone could do. The Seventy48 was no exception. As I mentioned in the last post, I had put in the training that seemed like enough, but the race was still over twice as far as I’d ever paddled, so I was still nervous.

I had decided months ago that it would make sense to take the day off of work before the race. I know this wasn’t required, but I had three personal days I was going to “donate” back to the school district soon and thought a little more sleep that morning would be good. I stayed up later the night before and slept in the morning of the start to try to push my internal clock back a few hours. Starting at 7pm, I didn’t want to get in the boat and immediately start feeling tired. I also decided about two days before the race that I was going to try to go all through the night rather than stopping to sleep so late afternoon caffeine was helpful.

It had been raining hard for the previous few days but let up that morning. I hoped we’d be able to start dry. Once I was in the boat, it wouldn’t matter if I got wet, but it’s always nicer to get into the boat dry (this is probably just a mental thing I should get over). Unfortunately the rain came back just as I got to the check-in and grew more intense while we waited for the start.

Boats at the Seventy48 Launch site

Getting to the launch site, I was greeted by so many different types of boats. I expected kayaks, rowing shells, and SUPs. I hadn’t thought about it much but wasn’t surprised to see outriggers or canoes. The catamaran-style boat with two 8-person canoes lashed together was unexpected, as was the 12-person canoe, and the four-person bike-boat. It was amazing to see the diversity of vessels attempting the event, some costing $10k+ and precisely engineering for speed while others appeared to be fun DIY projects that the owners were simply hoping would float long enough to complete the journey.

Shortly before launching my boat, the rain stopped and I was able to stay dry getting in. My parent, Dom, and Avery wished me luck from the dock as I pushed away. There was so much excitement amongst the boaters and spectators as we approached the start. It felt like the start of an ultramarathon. Sure, we were all out here competing against each other, officially, but really, we were all just trying to see what we could do and wished others the best of luck getting to Port Townsend. This spirit of camaraderie is one of the best aspect of these events.

When the horn sounded, we headed out through Tacoma. People cheered us on from shore, bridges, and boats. Weirdly none of them seemed interested in trading places with me. After a mile or so, the crowd of boats started to spread out. I had plenty of room to paddle without worrying about hitting other boats while being close enough that we could still have conversations. As we continued along Ruston Way, a storm was moving in. Kayakers could see it coming while rowers had views of sunny skies behind us. At Point Defiance, we had a Spot Tracker GPS check where I found out my tracker had shut down. After restarting it, I turned the corner to head towards Vashon and almost immediately spotted a pod of porpoise. I was excited and pointed them out to another boat. “Oh yeah, Harbor Porpoise. They’re all over.” After spotting the third pod within the hour, I was a little less excited about seeing them… but only a little. This is also where the Humpback decided to check in on us.

We continued up the west side of Vashon as night fell. Boats continued to spread out. By the time we were crossing to Blake Island, I could see lights on other boats but couldn’t see or hear the people in them. With the storm clouds still above us, there was no way the (nearly) full moon was going to help light our way. Luckily, the thoughtful people of Seattle left lights on for us that reflected against the sky and made it easy to find each piece of land we needed to get to.

I’ve heard that many long distance paddlers will hallucinate, especially at night. When crossing from Fay Bainbridge, I noticed some light on the edge of my field of view. Looking directly at it, I had a small glowing dot on my hand. I paddled a few more strokes and it stayed there. Eventually I dunked my hand in the water and the dot was gone. I’m fairly certain it was just some bioluminescence, but I talk with people about it, the less sure I am.

Not long before getting to Point No Point, light returned to the sky and I was getting hungry. Having already eaten several bars, I felt like I wanted something else, but didn’t remember packing anything that sounded good. Just as I was deciding which was worse, hunger or more bars, I remembered that Dominique had made a last minute purchase for me, a squeezable pouch of peanut butter. Those five servings disappeared in a little over an hour. It was perfect!

The longest crossing on the course was leaving Foulweather Bluff, aiming for Marrowstone Island and Indian Island. Navigation along the course so far had been very easy. This crossing was about five miles. As I approached, the skies were clear and I could see where I was headed. Unfortunately, as soon as I left Foulweather Bluff, another cloud bank rolled, obscuring the far side. This was the only time during the race that I felt the need to pull out my compass. Additionally, during this crossing, I hit the point where I’d been awake for over 24 hours and my eyes started to droop. I sighted off what land I could see and drank some tea to try to stay awake. I managed to get across without any issues, but heard that at least two other boats went too far to the east, drifted into shipping lanes, and were disqualified.

After the crossing, I knew I was close to the end, but those last six or so miles still felt like they took forever. I finally pulled into shore in Port Townsend with an air horn signaling to all within a mile or so that I’d finished the race.

Usually at the end of a long race, I feel like I never want to do that again. It typically takes a few weeks before the pain and frustration fade enough to make me think it would be a “good idea” to sign up for another one. With this, I probably would have signed up on the dock for next year. I’m not sure what it was, but it felt like a fun trip that I was ready to do again, once I’d rested for a bit.

While sitting on the beach at the finish, a family stumbled upon the event and wanted to know what was going on. After a brief description, they were impressed enough with the finishers, they said, “Wow, I’m going to have to let my family know I met a real-life hero.” It seemed like such an odd thing to say. First, I think we have very different definitions of hero, since I didn’t feel like doing this event had really helped anyone else which I see as a key function of heroes. But it also took much of my remaining strength to not explain how this was something that pretty much anyone could, if they were willing to put in just a bit of training. At that moment I realized it was just like other ultras because I was thinking “it’s JUST a bit of activity for 15 hours and change. The sort of thing anyone could do.”

Photo credit:

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Seventy48

My kayak on a Mercer Island beach on my first trip around

I’m often looking for a way to challenge myself and last year while listening to a Beer on the Run podcast, I found something that will push my limits. Jack and Clint were interviewing Joel Ballezza, mostly about his running and the ultras he’s done, but at one point, the conversation turned to a kayak race he tried last summer. In this race, individuals or teams take human-powered boats seventy miles from Tacoma to Port Townsend in less than 48 hours. With all the creativity I expect to have at the end of the event, they called it the Seventy48. Joel described it as cold and mentally difficult. He had to DNF due to hypothermia concerns. It sounded miserable… I had to try it.

I’ve paddled kayaks all my life. My dad did several research trips to Alaska when I was only a few years old and they were all sea kayak-based. When I was about five, he got a kit to build a kids kayak. We all worked on it (I helped as much as a five-year-old can) and then I started paddling that on trips to lakes and rivers around Florida and Ohio. As my brother and I got older, we started doing family canoe camping trips in Ontario. In college, I got into whitewater kayaking and had fun exploring the rivers of Oregon. When I graduated, my parents gave me a sea kayak to continue exploring the Pacific Northwest. Even with all that paddling experience, I had never paddled more than 10-12 miles in one day. Seventy miles just sounds insane.

Exploring with my expert navigator

I was very nervous and doubtful of my ability to paddle that far. I decided at the end of last summer that I would attempt to paddle around Mercer Island in Lake Washington. If I could make the ~13 mile trip, I would sign up and start training. It took me about three hours and felt pretty good. I signed up… and promptly stopped paddling until the new year.

In February and March, I started training a bit more seriously. The challenge was finding time to get out on the water without feeling like I was leaving all the child care responsibilities to my wife. Luckily I found that if I offered treats, Avery was very excited about exploring Lake Washington with me. We stopped for coffee/steamers, cake pops, and french fries. We even discovered Tommy the Turtle and had to say hi anytime we were near.

Gotta stop for food

I wanted one more long distance paddle before the race and realized my parents lived just far enough away to make it interesting. I drove over to Redmond, dropped Avery off, put my boat in the water and over the next five hours, I paddled the 27 miles home. It felt pretty good and I was able to move around without any issues the next day. I’ve got a little over 24 hours until the start. I’m trained, I plotted my route (see below), I’ve got lights for night paddling. I think I’m ready. What could possibly go wrong?

Update: 3 hours until the start. You’ll be able to track here. I’m team 8, Drowned Chipmunk: https://seventy48-2022.maprogress.com/

Now that it’s done, you can also read the race report.

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Have Fun Out There Or Not

Title: Have Fun Out There Or Not: The Semi-Rad Running Essays

Author: Brendan Leonard

Completed: May 2022 (Full list of books)

Overview: Back in late 2012 or early 2013, Matty and I started planning a fun birthday celebration. Our birthdays are one year and four days apart so what would be better than a joint birthday party… where we ran our age in miles through the Boise Foothills. This was such a bad idea that we kept it going each year until I moved away, adding a mile each year, of course.

When this book arrived, it seemed like the sort of thing Matty would send, but the card was blank. We texted a few days later and he confirmed that he sent it. This book perfectly covers the topic of running long distances for no particular reason other than to have fun and find out if you can do it. I feel that sums up many of the adventures we had together and this inspired me to make up others. The next one is already taking shape.

I highly recommend this book, especially if you or someone you love runs long distance and can’t exactly say why. Thanks for the book and HAPPY BIRTHDAY MATTY!

Highlights:

  • When Forest and I had discussed the rules at a coffee shop in Brooklyn three days earlier, I had said, “I think vomiting is allowed.” “I think vomiting is advised,” he said. I wonder how many bad ideas start with two grown men asking each other “What if we …”
  • So I don’t run with headphones, which is kind of boring, but I think I prefer a more pure kind of suffering.
  • This ultramarathon was for sure the most pain I’d ever been in for this long—a new frontier of fatigue. But there were cookies every few miles.
  • Running, unlike a lot of sports, is almost universal. Most of us have never (and may never) know what it’s like to drain a three-point shot over someone to win a game, or catch a touchdown pass, or tear down an Alaskan spine on a snowboard. But everyone knows what it’s like to run when you’re tired, to dig deep, whether it’s a mile or 100 miles. And when we see someone else doing it, trying hard, we’re moved. And we cheer.
  • running through the mountains in the dark, slogging through a 100-mile course with 21,000 feet of elevation gain in order to get a “free” belt buckle is borderline psychopathic behavior according to most sane people.
  • we sat for a few minutes and didn’t run or walk, finally off the clock after 32.5 hours. It was difficult. But we all signed up for it looking for something difficult, didn’t we? I guess I got my money’s worth. And hey, a free belt buckle.
  • A friend of mine said to me a long time ago that you basically have two options when you do things for fun: you can find things that other people have made up and do those for fun, or you can make your own fun.
  • I am a fan of both making up my own fun things as well as doing other things people have made up, but I have to say, when you’re making up your own fun, the ideation process and the planning are probably half of the enjoyment for me.
  • One thing I know about endurance sports, at least as you’re progressing into them, is that the hardest thing you’ve ever done becomes less hard once you’ve done it. And then you do the next, harder thing, and that first thing seems not nearly as bad. And then you just keep going, and going, on sort of a stair-step progression plan for idiots.
  • Eliud Kipchoge, who holds the world record for the fastest marathon ever, puts his shoes on one at a time, just like you. Which is nice to think about, but he would also fucking crush you in a marathon.
  • If you’ve been running regularly but would like to find someone to tell you you’re doing it wrong, you can find them on the internet.
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