Some things really stick with you

(Polyurethane glue, for instance)

I set about making some box beams today, which involved gluing some wood panels. But it’s cold in the garage and regular wood glue just doesn’t work below about 55 f. So I used Gorilla Glue, which works down to about 40 f.

I don’t bother with gloves when I use regular wood glue, because it washes off with soap and water. But for Gorilla Glue, I always use gloves because it’s waterproof and… very difficult to remove.

For instance, if there were a tear in the glove, and some glue got in. So that a bit of the glove was securely attached to your thumb

I’ve tried peeling it off, but the sensation of removing skin dissuaded me. Any solvent that will dissolve polyurethane glue, you really don’t want on your skin either. (By comparison Super Glue is easier to remove because it softens in acetone)

Well I reckon it’ll come off in 12 hours or so, or maybe 24, as skin cells do slough off. Even if polyurethane glue does not.

Micro-annoyance waves

I said to myself; “That microwave is going to piss me off every time I use it, for the entire lifetime of the appliance.”

On Sunday afternoon, our microwave oven beeped oddly, then lost track of time. Diane reset the time and we shrugged. Then later it shocked her.

“OK,” we thought, “time for a new microwave.” After all, our Daewoo stainless steel microwave was well over a decade old; it didn’t owe us anything. So on Monday we went out to a couple places and brought home an Oster. Read the manual, plugged it in, went to set the cooking time and – something unexpected happened:

Intending to set 1 min 30 seconds, I touched the ‘1’ button and it instantly started up, counting down from 1 minute. I never got the chance to press “30” or “Start”.

“WTF”, I thought. I tried again. Anytime you touched a number button one through six, it just started right up for that number of minutes. I studied the manual more carefully.

Microwave control panel with logic problems
If you touch any number from one to six, the microwave just… starts, cooking that many minutes.

Turns out, if you wanted something specific like one minute, forty seconds, you had to press “Cook Time” first, then the time, then “Start”. The “Cook Time” button was in gray lettering on a gray background, the same size as several other function buttons arranged with it.*

You could use the “Express cook” feature, as long as you are satisfied with whole-minute increments. But it lacks finesse: the difference between one minute and two minutes is a hundred percent more cooking. Two to three minutes? Fifty percent more cooking. At 1200 watts intensity, those are big jumps.

Or you could trust the “sensor cooking”, wherein you let an appliance company decide for you how hot your tea or soup or whatever should be. Since Diane and I have differing preferences, that’s a non-starter.

You can also “Add 30 seconds” using the eponymous dedicated button. It saves you one whole button-push, at the expense of exact control, and the need to find that button on the control panel.

This nonsense is called “Express Cook”, wherein the most basic function is hard to see, and requires extra steps. I pictured myself at six in the morning, peering at the control panel in the half-lit kitchen, trying to heat some water.

I returned the microwave and went in search for a replacement. Turns out, most brands were made by that same company. With minor graphic differences, the panels were laid out the same way. And the user manuals even had the same grammatical errors in the same sentences.

I went to several stores, and wound up at Best Buy. Many of the brands had the “Express Cook” panel with its messed-up workflow and logic. LG had an intriguiging layout: just a featureless black panel on which controls would appear once you touched. It reminded me of the monolith from 2001, A Space Odyssey.

Panasonic looked like a good clean design, so I downloaded the manual and stood there in the store to verify. For basic cooking at full power, you simply enter the desired time and press “Start”. If you want anything different or fancy, then you involve other buttons. I bought it and it works fine.

What possesses designers to make things more complicated instead of simpler? To force the user to recall instructions instead of going directly to basic functions? For a glimpse of the commercial value of simplicity, think of the old Yahoo home page, versus the Google home page.

NOTES:

  • Bonus: if you watch it count down and hit ‘Stop’ when it reaches 1, you can skip the five beeps. (I hate beeps, what was ever wrong with a pleasant little bell to tell you when the microwave was done)
  • Also, I mean obviously, everyone should just get off my lawn
  • I have not been in Best Buy for years, because they always had music and movies up super-loud. But it was considerably quieter, so they must have found a way to query the customers who were NOT going to their store.
  • * Of course they are not actual buttons with tactile placement and feedback, but only marked spots on an otherwise smooth flat.
  • Here, I’m gonna try out the WordPress gallery feature. Click on any one of the pictures to get a closer look.

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.