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Musings

Electricity

Electricity – just flip a switch and the light comes on. Is that battery on your mobile phone running low? Plug it into a charger. Such a simple thing – electricity – we’ve come to just assume it’s there and it works.

But sometimes I wonder whether we as a country can get our electricity act together – or not. I’m not suggesting government actions are the desired solution – but we’re clearly lacking something and paying a price as a result – and likely to pay an even bigger price given the forecasts.

Two recent examples from this morning’s press:

  • In California, the Independent System Operator (responsible for managing all of California’s electricity market), is warning that “it anticipates a shortfall in supplies this summer, especially if extreme heat, wildfires or delays in bringing new power sources online exacerbate the constraints.” In a Wall St. Journal story headlined “Electricity Shortage Warnings Grow Across U.S.”, writer Katherine Blunt notes that “the risk of electricity shortages is rising throughout the U.S. as traditional power plants are being retired more quickly than they can be replaced by renewable energy and battery storage.” Beyond California, grid operators in the midwest and Texas have also recently warned about supply issues expected when summer demand kicks up. Ironically, another headline on the same page as Blunt’s story reads “High Winds Fuel Spring Wildfires in New Mexico.” High winds, how about that?
  • In a story in this morning’s San Francisco Chronicle titled “California wants more electric cars. But many public chargers don’t work“, writer Julie Johnson writes that “more than a quarter of public charging stations in the Bay Area don’t work…” The survey she cites didn’t include Tesla charging stations “because those are only available to Tesla drivers.” Apparently the issues aren’t just broken kiosks but other problems like kiosks “blocked by a parked car with a sleeping man inside.” Good grief.

In a society that can’t function without electricity – and which is transitioning toward even more reliance on electricity for electric cars, trains and even airplanes – these problems with electricity supply and distribution are important issues that can’t be ignored.

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Books Living Musings

Turning Off the Braindead Megaphone

Photo by Zach Vessels on Unsplash

Way back in 2007, author George Saunders published his first book of essays with the curious title of The Braindead Megaphone. In the title essay, he describes going to a very enjoyable party where the guests are all having a great time – until another guy shows up with a megaphone in his hands and starts talking about random stuff – like how the flowers bloom in early springtime and more. The megaphone guy’s stupid voice drowns out the many otherwise enjoyable conversations being had among the guests.

I read that essay for the first time a few weeks ago – and found it to be a beautiful reminder of the influence that loud voices can have on us and on how we feel. For me, TV news has become that megaphone guy ruining the party. Who needs that?

In his latest book, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, Saunders writes about how a writer can be likened to a music producer sitting in front of one of those big mixing boards connected to many different microphones picking up the sounds of the many instruments and voices. The mixing board has rows of fader switches to adjust the sound coming from those many different sources – the music producer uses those faders to “mix” those sounds into the final production.

Photo by Drew Patrick Miller on Unsplash

Saunders writes that “a story can be thought of as a version of that mixing board, only with thousands of fader switches on it—thousands of decision points.” The author’s role is to adjust the levels of those faders to create the best story. Doing so, Saunders counsels, involves a repetitive revision process – “going through a story again and again, microtuning the adjustment of the existing fader switches…” to make the story the best it can be.

Saunders’ mixing board is a metaphor for life – for how we go through our days, constantly adjusting up or down the many inputs that make up our daily experiences. Choosing to play a video game involves cranking up that fader switch while turning down other activities competing for our time. Taking a photowalk to help refocus and experience the world differently is another mixing board adjustment. So many other inputs are part of that big mixing board of our life.

Each day our mixing board gets tweaked – hopefully producing pleasing “music” that’s delightful to us. But some days there may be a cacophony of sounds (experiences) instead – with our mixing board somehow mis-adjusted and out of whack. That’s when it’s time to step back and re-examine our inputs and re-adjust them – or to find new ones to add to our mix or to eliminate others.

About a year ago I made a choice for my life mixing board – choosing to eliminate the input of television news. I turned the volume completely down on my mental mixing board, choosing to eliminate that input from my life. My choice to do so resulted mostly from my frustrations with the events occurring in our country during that time – events that I couldn’t influence and which I didn’t need to have repeated over and over again. So I flipped that switch and the TV news was gone.

One other thought. Many years ago I remember the book titled Steps to an Ecology of Mind by Gregory Bateson. While the content of the book was a bit over my head, that title has always stuck with me. What are the steps that might lead to an improved ecology of my mind? A year ago eliminating television news as a regular input in my life was one of those steps. One that has worked out very well for me.

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Cuba Living Musings Photography

It’s 2020 Already!

Skyline at Iron Horse Vineyards – Sonoma County, California

Wow that seemed quick! In a flash 2019 was over and we were on to the new 2020.

Let’s hope 2020 is indeed a new year for clarity of vision, new learnings, much joy and prosperity for all.

I was reminded last night of another Happy New Year photo that my friend Doug Kaye and I both made while walking the streets of Havana seven years ago this month. It highlights the contrast between decay and hope with the simple Happy New Year message painted in English on this decayed building on a Havana street.

Happy New Year – Havana 2013

For some thoughts on what this new decade might bring in terms of technology see Kara Swisher’s New York Times column: No More Phones and Other Tech Predictions for the Next Decade. I especially like this: “There will be an internet in the future that stops screaming at us.”

For another look ahead, see Fred Wilson’s post about What Will Happen in the 2020s. I like his optimism:

I am an optimist and believe in society’s ability to find the will to face our challenges and the intelligence to find solutions to them.

And don’t miss Life in 2030 by Frank Chen of Andreessen Horowitz. He should take up science fiction writing!

I also recommend Om Malik’s recommendations for A Decade of Self-Control – although my strong recommendation for a daily journaling app is Day One. I’ve been using Day One since I had a surgery back in 2012 and wanted to capture my recovery. It’s become a regular daily habit for me since then – the literal scratchpad of my life! For another recommendation for Day One see Why a Digital Diary Will Change Your Life.

Over the long holiday weekend I read a few books – especially enjoyed Mike Isaac’s SuperPumped about Uber. Quite a story and a very enjoyable read!

In other news I continue to find it somewhat amusing that the most popular article here on my blog remains the one from many years ago about my rotator cuff surgery! Somehow that article ended up high enough in search engine rankings to generate many pages views every day!

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Books Musings

Words Matter – Avoid the “de-words”!

I’m enjoying reading the new book Our Towns – A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America by James Fallows (@JamesFallows) and Deborah Fallows (@FallowsDeb). On my morning walk this morning I was listening to the audiobook version of Our Towns during their discussion of their time in Eastport, Maine.

During one of Deb’s sections, she commented about local language – and how the locals in Eastport are using language as “a power tool of their development.” She described how a local group of women in Eastport had noticed the use of “de– words” in many articles describing Eastport – “words like: ‘depressed,’ ‘dependent,’ ‘decline,’ ‘despair’” and how those words were often used to describe aspects of Eastport’s economics, services, schools, or population.

Deb describes how this group then set forth to crowd out the de- words with re- words: like ‘rebound,’ ‘rediscover,’ ‘redesign,’ ‘reverse,’ ‘renew,’ ‘reenergize,’ ‘reemerge.’ and that they encouraged reporters and politicians to substitute the more positive words in their descriptions of Eastport. What a great idea!…

For more background on the book – and some of their findings and conclusions from their journey – see this video of them at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

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Musings

On eBay – Nothing is Inevitable…or Lasts Forever

From The New York Times Magazine:

“EBay, in obvious and subtle ways, has served as a model well beyond the world of commerce, inspiring the systems that play host to discourse, media, culture and communication online. It was among the first true megaplatforms — the sort that establishes itself as something like online infrastructure. And it may be, to date, the last one we truly understand.”

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Musings

When Did the Majority of Americans Go Wireless-Only?

From: https://www.stlouisfed.org/open-vault/2018/june/fascinating-facts-cellphone-smartphone-usage

The latter half of 2016 was the first time that a majority of American homes had wireless telephone service but no landline. This was noted in the April issue of Page One Economics by Jeannette Bennett, a senior economic education specialist with the St. Louis Fed’s Memphis Branch.

That finding comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, which has been releasing briefs on wireless substitution trends in America since late 2006. The center’s July-December 2016 National Health Interview Survey (PDF)revealed that, for the first time, more than half of American homes did not have a landline, but did have at least one wireless telephone. This was a turning point in the long-running survey.