The Four Rs (Introducing “Refuse!”)

We’ve all learned the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. But there’s a fourth one, and it needs to come first: Refuse. As in don’t partake. Take every opportunity to refuse to use plastic, implore government and industries to cut back or reduce their usage, put pressure on companies and organizations to replace as many instances of plastic use as they possibly can. Break the cycle.

Wired: Since China’s Ban, Recycling Has Gone Up In Flames

Coda: We’ve been all been taught that “Change begins with me,” and that’s true. But it’s also true that no amount of individual recycling habits are going to reduce plastic use enough to make the kind of dent we need to make at this point. Only legislation and boycotts can do that. Governments of the world need (yes, need) to start making it illegal to use plastics when other materials would do. Consumers need to boycott plastic offerings when feasible alternatives exist (Why are people still buying plastic poop bags for your pet when compostable ones exist? Why are people still buying single use plastic water bottles? Just STOP!)

Vote for any and all legislation that aims to reduce or eliminate plastics usage. Refuse to support businesses that aren’t doing everything within their power. The goal now needs to be retraining society’s away from thinking that rampant plastics use is without enormous and lasting consequence.

International Women’s Day on Apple Music

Way to go Apple! Friday is International Women’s Day, and I just realized the entirety of the “Browse” section in Apple Music right now is comprised of female artists, female bands, playlists by women featuring music by women (but for everyone). Nicely done!

Whale Fall

When a whale dies and sinks to the bottom of the ocean, it’s called a “whale fall.” Hungry worms and shellfish and all creatures great and small come from miles around to feast. That much I knew. What I didn’t know until today is that a whale fall can sustain the life of others for 50-75 years – which is approximately how long a whale lives to begin with. Gorgeous symmetry of nature.

Open Letter to PetSmart and PetCo (Plastic Poop Bags)

I just wrote and sent the following letter to PetSmart. I tried to send the same letter to PetCo, but they do not allow email contact through their site – I’ll tweet this URL to them instead.


Dear PetSmart –

I am aware that you give your shoppers a choice between plastic or compostable poop bags. That’s a good start, but I think it’s time to change that policy. Plastic bags take several hundred years to decompose, while compostable bags take only a few months. Of all the things we might want to enshrine in posterity for future generations, our dogs’ poop is not one of them.

Our landfills, waterways, and oceans are drowning in plastics, and the problem of ocean plastics has now reached the level of international crisis — a mind-boggling 8 million metric tons of plastic enters the world’s oceans every year. We see a regular stream of news stories and documentaries illustrating how critical the plastics path has become. While some plastic things in our society are difficult to replace with non-plastic alternatives, poop bags are not one of them. Compostable alternatives are every bit as easy to use, and do just as good a job. Frankly, there really is no excuse for anyone to be using non-compostable poop bags in 2019.

Yes, compostable bags cost a little bit more, but not much. I understand that you want to offer your consumers a low-cost option, but I feel that poop bags are in a “special” category because the plastics situation is so dire and because poop is… poop. I implore you to take a serious look at the situation and ask yourselves whether you would really lose customers if you simply took all non-biodegradable poop bags off the shelves at all of your stores.

As a major retailer of pet supplies, your store is uniquely positioned to make a tremendous impact. Refusing to sell plastic poop bags would send a powerful message to your customers and shareholders, would probably garner some positive press, and would help you and your customers to feel better about their choices.

Please give this idea your full consideration.

Regards,
Scot Hacker

Pyroclastic Flow

TIL about “pyroclastic flow.” Imagine the column of gases and ash and pumice pebbles spewing 32km into the air during the eruption of Vesuvius. The column is able to grow that tall because there’s so much upward force behind it, but eventually the sheer mass of the column overwhelms the upward force and it collapses in on itself and comes crashing down. Now, instead of that 400-degree miasma pushing skyward, 32km of hell is pushing down along the ground at 300mph, toward your town. The first victims of Vesuvius died when they took shelter indoors — 18 hours of raining pumice pebbles caved in the roofs of their homes. The other two thirds died when the pyroclastic flow spewed into town, enveloping them in an instant. Nature.

Sapfinger

Mountain biked up to Sapfinger to replace a geocache this afternoon, and bumped into an old friend on the way back. Can’t help myself from snapping this tree every time I’m up there – starkly beautiful in any light, but always reminded that what makes it so photogenic is the fact that it’s dying and leafless (pine beetles?). Today, turkey vultures were circling around and through, gliding just above its branches. Every time I visit, a few more big branches are crumbling at its feet. In a few years it’ll be just a stump, then eventually nothing, and this plateau will be a lonelier place.

TrackerBase

Around 20 years ago, enthralled by the database-like properties of the Be File System in BeOS, I decided to see if I could use the filesystem itself as a backing database for a live web server application. I ultimately wrote TrackerBase, and served betips.net from a BeBox in my home for a few years.

The basic idea was that BeOS let you create custom filetypes with custom attributes, and provided APIs for querying those attributes. The rest was just custom database query code, but without an actual database.

Fast forward two decades. I’m all-Mac now. I recently stumbled across the original .pkg installer for TrackerBase and wanted to have a look. Discovered that there was no way to open the package from the Mac side, and reached out to the Haiku community (Haiku is the open-source successor to BeOS). Within an hour, a community member provided me with a tarball, and I was able to see that code again for the first time in a long time.

It’s always embarrassing to look back on old code, but that was especially true in this case. And Perl? What was I thinking? Anyway, these days we have github, so I’ve just published the original code on github, untouched, for posterity’s sake. MIT license.

Irrelevant as it may be today, I’m still proud of it as  a novel application of an innovative filesystem.

Damn Good Lyric

I hear the radio it’s finally gonna play *new* music
You know the British Invasion
But what about The Minutemen Flesheaters DOA Big Boys and the Black Flag?
Will the last American band to get played on the radio please bring the flag? Please bring the flag!
Glitter-disco-synthesizer night school all that noble savage drum drum drum
Astronauts go back in time to hang out with the cave people
It’s about time it’s about space it’s about some people in the strangest places
Woody Guthrie sang about b-e-e-t-s not b-e-a-t-s

– X, “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts”

Bertrand Russell’s 10 Commandments for Living in a Healthy Democracy

1: Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.

2: Do not think it worthwhile to produce belief by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.

3: Never try to discourage thinking, for you are sure to succeed.

4: When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.

5: Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.

6: Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.

7: Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.

8: Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.

9: Be scrupulously truthful, even when truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.

10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.

First Experience with Sensory Deprivation

What better way to ring out the old year than to immerse oneself in a tank of body-temperature saline solution, suspended in near-perfect darkness and near-perfect quiet for an hour-plus, drifting and floating in mind and body, meditating out the old to ring in the new?

A friend and I spent New Year’s Eve floating in a pair of sensory deprivation tanks at Oakland Floats. This was my first experience with sensory deprivation and I truly didn’t know what to expect – would it be a simple relaxation session, a hallucinatory dream, a life-changing return to the womb, or …  something else?

In the end, the experience was more like my occasional experiments with meditation: A few transcendental glimmers, but mostly the ever-slippery mind weaving back and forth between calmness and thoughts of the day, as when falling asleep. At one point, I became water and the water had a softly breathing throat, breathing into the universe, which itself was represented by a slowly twirling dodecahedron of blue light. But most of the time was spent thinking about the bowl of Pho I intended to consume afterwards, the conversations I’d had with family over the break, my impending return to work, etc. Non-concentration is a hard thing to hold onto.

The tanks themselves were not fancy: Fiberglass construction, with a push-out entrance/exit flap at a 45-degree angle. Inside, I did not find perfect darkness as I had expected — for safety, a gentle purple light glimmered underwater so one could at least re-orient if claustrophobia set in,  or if one had a need to remember which way was up.

Your life experiences in water have been marked by strong temperature differentials between moisture and the surrounding air, but not here. In a sensory deprivation tank, both air and water are precisely at body temperature. That got me wondering: With almost infinite variations in the human body amongst individuals, how amazing is it that we all share almost exactly the same body temperature? In the tank, temperature is so precisely controlled that your arm feels a bit chilly when you wave it in the air. But if you remain perfectly still, you cannot “feel” the air at all.

For the first few minutes, as I transitioned into the experience, I found myself looking for a hot tub experience. Where are the bubbles? Can I turn up the heat? But this is not a hot tub – it’s something different. Once my mind quieted down and stopped looking for stimulus, the edges of my body seemed to disappear into the air and water, until I could no longer figure out where my body ended and the air/water began. This undifferentiated feeling helped me to lose myself in the experience. This experience of total support is the one that manufacturers of memory foam mattresses are trying to emulate – total support from all angles, so that the effects of gravity seem to disappear. Weightlessness, like what I feel when scuba diving, but without all of the sensory stimulus that comes with diving,

The buoyancy provided by the strong saline mixture is such that half your body is in water, while half of it is out. When I flipped over face-down for some breath-holding meditation, my butt was 100% out of water, which would never happen in the bathtub. Every now and then, as my body slowly drifted in the tank, some bit of it would touch the sides, which was a gentle but jarring reminder of where I was and what I was doing.

A “halo” of light foam is provided to rest your head in, but I realized after a bit that I didn’t need it – the buoyancy is so effective that one’s head is actually supported by the water without assistance.

After a while, I realized that I had no clear sense of how much time had passed. Had I been in for 15 minutes or an hour? With no external stimulation, I found that my time-sensing radar had become completely unplugged, which was both a disorienting and a welcome experience.

The saline solution is strong enough to sting if you have any cuts or wounds on your body — wish I’d thought in advance to cover mine with NuSkin or Vaseline. After my face-down experiment, my eyes stung a bit, even though I’d kept them closed. A squirt bottle filled with clean water is provided to flush them out if this happens, but I didn’t use it.

So what exactly is this sensory deprivation experience? A form of meditation? A salve for tired muscles? Simple relaxation? It’s anything you want or need it to be. Like anything, you get out of it what you put into it. I can’t exactly say that I emerged a different person, but I’m glad I experienced it, and would be happy to do it again. It was certainly a perfect way to say goodbye to 2018, far removed from the fireworks of the world. Yum.