Things we used to say and still should: “Believe In Yourself”

“Believe in yourself” is one of those contrived platitudes that gets a lot of criticism. And the Internet, for all its platforming of such positivity, is just the place for your efforts at learning a new skill to be compared with the skills of someone who does it for a living.

Honestly, the Internet, and in particular social media, are not a place where mental health fares well. But we can do better.

“OK,” I hear in comment threads, “Just toughen up then. Develop a thicker skin. Some armor, if you will.”

Armor. All right, armor. Sounds right. Except… how well do you perform while wearing armor? Can you learn your moves, barely able to see out of the helmet? Can you become graceful, clanking around in a metal suit? Can you even hear the one voice you need, the one that helps you find your strengths, inside the squeaking, rattling cage you are wearing?

I see this all the time in, of all places, 3D printing forums. Someone designs a solution to a problem and prints it, and ten people will jump in to tell them why they are wrong; they should have done it with cardboard, or metal, or could have bought it cheaper than making it.

There’s a flip side to this coin: helping others believe in themselves as well. You see a friend creating something, find something positive to say. There are already plenty of people out there who will cut them down. Including, probably, the memory of so many people they’ve known over the years who are trapped in their own cages of creative negativity.

(This is not to say you can never be negative. If there’s some part of you that just wants to let someone have it, fine… But save it for damage where damage is due. For purveyors of hatred, of prejudice, for fear mongers and war mongers, for people actively making the world worse.)

Life is short, and the universe is cold and dark. Make it a little brighter and warmer.

Rivian electric trucks

The “skateboard” that underlies Rivian electric utility vehicles. And soon, Ford and Amazon. And who knows what else?

Normal, IL had an auto plant that closed, and I was kinda hoping that Tesla would show an interest in it. But wait… this is better!* Rivian trucks is gearing up to make heavy-duty vehicles. So far they have a truck and an SUV.

Imagine you have a delivery business, or a plumbing company or construction company or any other small fleet. You don’t need extreme range but you sure would like to have clean vehicles that don’t require a lot of maintenance. Electric vehicles fit that bill perfectly. No oil changes, air filters, spark plugs…

Ford motor company, and Amazon, have both invested heavily in Rivian for this reason and others. Both companies will be using the skateboard in their vehicles.

I’m really happy to see this company in Normal. Internal combustion is a dead technology; mature, but with no future. We just can’t keep burning carbon to make energy. That puts Rivian in a growth position, and Normal with it.

Their website portrays ‘adventure vehicles’ but let’s face it, fleet trucks are a great market.

NOTES:

  • (Partly, one assumes, because of my strong dislike of Elon Musk but I digress)
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  • I tried to get a picture of the pickup truck, but the crowd pressed in too closely.
  • Rivian also has facilities in Plymouth, MI, San Jose and Irvine CA, and the UK.

Daniel Gibson (the people you meet on the renewable energy trail)

Downtown Normal had an event for Rivian Auto, showing off the electric truck technology they are developing, which I’ll cover in a separate post. And riding to the event I met this guy:

Daniel Gibson showing his work on renewable energy to travelers on the Constitution Trail, 13 Oct 2019

He’s been exploring renewable energy on his own since 2013, and even built a demonstration solar-powered shelter with light, entertainment system, and heat. He uses large solar cell arrays and a solar air heater of his own design. What better day to shout out than when there’s electric vehicles on display and people are already thinking about renewables? So we talked for a while.

Describing himself as an ‘experience-based learner’ he showed off solar electricity. Using solar panels and cheap batteries, “A thousand bucks buys 30 years of 250 watts.” The bulk of that cost was in the electronic equipment. And the cost keeps dropping – you can get solar for around a dollar a watt online now, including shipping.

For demonstration, he cooked meals, had a football game going on his TV, and his computer running. While we were talking several people stopped to learn.

If you’d like to get in touch with Daniel, his email is danielgib@protonmail.com

No telling where he will end up but if I had to guess, his future is bright enough to run solar panels.

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You can say Racist: my review of Stamped From The Beginning

Cover picture, Stamped From The Beginning by Ibram X KendiIbram X Kendi’s Stamped From The Beginning is an exploration of the history of racist ideas in America. Kendi uses the device of examining five key historical figures in their time: Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison,  W. E. B. DuBois, and Angela Davis.

OK, that’s the dry description.

If you are a white American, you are accustomed to being protected from the word ‘racist’. Other people are racists. The founding fathers were not racist, they just lived in a different time. Above all, there is something called “The Race Card” that is used to end arguments, but America has moved beyond racism. These are articles of American faith, and anyone who challenges them is a faithless American.*

Kendi turns that all on its head by using the words ‘racist’ and ‘racism’ to describe actions and ideas, not just people. Because if the word is only a pejorative to be flung at other people, it will have little use in the diagnosis and treatment of America’s poison. Read the recent NPR interview in which Kendi explains why many Trump supporters avoid the word.

IBRAM X KENDI: I think we imagine that the term racist is an identity, is a fixed sort of category.

INSKEEP: It’s a label.

KENDI: Is a label, is a tattoo and is a representation of our bones, of our heart. And that’s just blatantly not true. Racist is a descriptive term. It’s a term that identifies someone based on what they’re saying or doing. And so if you’re saying something that’s racist, if you’re supporting policies that are racist, then you’re being a racist.

“Being a racist” is different from “are a racist”, but only just so far. How would you describe a society of racist institutions, and people who are being racist, with the result of racist policies and social expectations?

It would be a disservice to try and distill the book into a few paragraphs, but the reader will encounter some unfamiliar and difficult concepts. Racism has both personal and institutional dimensions, and took popular forms in the guise of benevolent segregationist and assimilationist ideas. Kendi fills out this narrative:

“This history could not be made for readers in an easy-to-predict, two-sided Hollywood battle of obvious good versus obvious evil, with good triumphing in the end. From the beginning, it has been a three-sided battle, a battle of antiracist ideas being pitted against two kinds of racist ideas at the same time, with evil and good failing and triumphing in the end. Both segregationist and assimilationist ideas have been wrapped up in attractive arguments to seem good, and both have made sure to re-wrap antiracist ideas as evil.” (Kendi, Ibram X.. Stamped from the Beginning (p. 4). PublicAffairs. Kindle Edition.)

Stamped From The Beginning is not an easy read; my advice is to set aside time. But if you find yourself avoiding the use of the word ‘racist’ when looking at racist actions, it might be exactly the right medicine.

NOTES:

  • Kendi is Director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center.
  • Denying the relevance of racism is like saying that other people have lead poisoning, but not you, even though you lived right alongside them, breathed the same air, ate the same food. You are never going to get the lead out of your tissues that way.

 

 

e-waste on the sidewalk

You see ‘vaping litter’ more and more on the sidewalk; little plastic pieces, some with electronic components. Here’s one I found while walking across campus. It was shaped like a flat yellow aluminum cigarette.

I tore it open to see the innards. Left to right there’s a silicone seal, pressure sensor, lithium-polymer battery of respectable energy, silicone seal, fiberglass tube with heating element, cellulose filter pack soaked with flavored nicotine-delivering oil, and another silicone seal.

There is no provision to recharge or reuse any of this; it’s meant to be discarded when done. So I found it on the sidewalk.

It’s long past time to bring back littering laws, and take them seriously. Because throwing e-waste on the sidewalk is not acceptable.

NOTES:

  • See also: all litter, what the hell is wrong with people stop throwing crap all over the place. But today I’m lookin’ at actual electronic waste discarded. Hey, nicotine is a stimulant it should give you energy to find the goddamn e-recycling bin.

Another close brush with death

Contrast view of coronary arteries before and after stents
At left: my Left Anterior Descending coronary artery, before stents. Vessel is shown by contrast material; multiple occlusions as high as 90 percent are visible. At right: same artery with 3 stents, (indicated by marker lines alongside artery) restoring blood flow

To be honest, my doctor wasn’t that helpful. I had a bad experience with a statin drug; he couldn’t suggest any alternative. But for one checkup he was not available so I got his assistant. She listened carefully, outlined different kinds of statins and got me on one that doesn’t seem to have awful side effects. Based on my symptoms, she also suggested a calcium scan for my heart.

The heart is a muscle; it isn’t supposed to have deposits of calcium in it. But arterial plaque has calcium in it, making for a simple and cheap test using an ordinary CAT scanner. It was only a hundred bucks, not covered by insurance. I went in.

A calcium score above 400 indicates “extensive plaque burden”. My score of 1,325 for the Left Anterior Descending artery was… concerning. I met with the PA again. She called for a coronary perfusion scan coupled with a stress test. The results of that test confirmed the calcium scan.

Bridge Out SignCould it wait until the end of the semester to address? Well, no. Actually, the choice was between meeting the cardiologist this week for a procedure next week, and just doing the procedure this week. The cardiologist’s nurse advised just going ahead with the procedure. There was no “snooze” button.

The procedure itself was fascinating, and carefully-chosen drugs allowed me to recall every detail, only with a sense of detachment, as if it had happened to someone else whom I’d read about in a magazine article. I could see the flow stopped by occlusions. I could see it improve in real time, as the stents were inserted.

Some takeaways: My exercise habit is probably responsible for the fact that I saw a cardiologist and not a coroner. Even though the intensity of exercise had declined sharply, I had kept doing it every day. This kept blood flowing.

I have tendinitis in my left elbow. Often, the entire arm hurt, quite severely.  Coupled with lack of energy, shortness of breath, and sudden dizzyness, was the signal that prompted me to ask the sympathetic PA for a deeper investigation. Now, only my elbow hurts. Not my whole arm.

Because I’m on Plavix now, I can’t take ibuprofen, which is the only medication that really helped with my chronic pain. That’s a trade-off. After 25 years however, I have many strategies for dealing with pain. This is familiar territory, don’t worry.

I’m gonna have to find a new doctor. Unless I can just keep seeing his assistant. She’s a better ‘doctor’ than he’ll ever be.

I do not yet have a dramatic improvement in energy, but it’s only been two days. In earlier times, this would have been a bypass operation with six months of recovery.  I’m going back to work on Monday. Once the semester is over, I’m gonna take an actual two weeks off. Spend some time at the senior activity center.

What did I mean by “Another” brush with death? Well this post is already getting long, but it’s been an eventful couple of decades, and I’ve got to go for a walk.