Category Archives: Uncategorized

Sloop At the Factory

Having lived in the Hudson Valley for over 20 years, I now get to be one of those folks that says things like: “have you been to that new icecream place? It’s across from where that dumpling place used to be, that was a bbq place before it. You know the one in the old bank building.” Businesses and places leave a fossil record, and after 20 years you become aware of the fossil layers beneath the current facade.

But, there are times when the new facade plays so much tribute to the old, and the old was so familiar, that it’s notable in it’s own right. As with Sloop at the Factory, where we were last night.

Sloop Factory Entrance

Sloop is one of the older craft breweries in the area, I remember them with bottles at farmers markets close to 20 years ago. I had heard recently that they had opened a new brewing facility at an old IBM plant, but the way it was described to me at first it didn’t sink in where it was. Which is the old IBM East Fishkill 330C building. The building that was on the other side of the cafeteria from 330D where I first worked when I moved to the Hudson Valley.

The old IBM site is really a great place for a brewery. It’s got all kinds of infrastructure, as this used to be chip manufacturing. 20 years ago they put in a new water pipeline from City of Poughkeepsie to have high quality water for their lithography lines (tolerances for chip manufacturing are much stricter than drinking water standards). And it’s nice to see something using that space instead of it sitting empty.

Drinking water tap
I really have no idea what kind of monitor station this once was, but now it’s the water tap.

But where I truly applaud the Sloop folks is how much they embraced the bones they are built upon. They converted an old monitoring station to their water tap. They have plaques of various IBM invention accomplishments out along the walls. The whole place pays homage to an era that’s past, as they expand into the future. With over 60 breweries in the Hudson River Valley, it feels really appropriate to have one now in an old IBM site, spanning the industries between the generations.

Cozy up to the bar, or pick a table. There are stacks of board games and arcade cabinets around.

Sloop’s always had some great beer. But with all the space available to them in this place they also put in a kitchen (with a kids menu), and have a ton of low, high, and picnic tables through out it. There are stacks of board games, including an old copy of candy land that we played last night. As a parent of a 4 year old I really appreciate this new brewery ethos of being kid friendly (Kings Court is doing this right as well). I like good beer, and being able to bring the whole family along makes for a fun evening.

We’ll definitely be back. And I look forward to taking old friends that used to work in those buildings back as well to get a glimpse of the past and the future all at once.

Book Review: The Sixth Extinction

Over the holidays I finally got around to reading/listening to The Sixth Extinction. It was quite good, but the language was at a density level where I found listening to the audio book to be a lot easier than reading on my kindle. Fortunately for me, both copies were in our library, so after my ebook lend expired I switched to e-audiobook lend to finish it off.

The book uses the lens of a number of extinct or endangered species to look at humanity’s impact on the world. And each species provides an opportunity to dig into a different part of science or the history of science around them.

The chapter on the Mastadon was fascinating. I never realized that the Mastadon, first discovered not that far from here in the Hudson Valley, was the trigger for the idea of species extinction. Unlike the Mamouth, whose teeth can be confused for that of an elephant’s, the Mastadon has cone shaped teeth that can’t be. It was odd enough that Thomas Jefferson believed these beasts were roaming the west, and were part of the reason he sent survey teams out. Eventually it would trigger the idea that species could go extinct, and start the process of reconstructing our past. But it’s super cool this happened in our back yard.

I learned was that Ocean Acidification was kind of accidentally discovered to be a thing after picking through the remains of the failed Biosphere 2 project. It turns out their biosphere wasn’t so good, so CO2 levels got up north of 1000 ppm, which drove the pH of the water quite acidic.

I discovered that I had a closer relationship to bat white-node syndrome than I realized, as Al Hicks was one of the state ecologists that first found it in NY. I met Al last year through at the regional Citizens’ Climate Lobby conference, as he’s also the Albany chapter lead.

And I really liked some of the visuals around the idea of a “new pangea”. It’s interesting to think about how global trade has effectively eliminated all the island barriers that we once had.

Definitely a recommended read. Going to be digesting some of it for a while.

Communication in 2019

Given that google is shuttering hangouts sometime in the next year, I decided this was finally the time to bail out of it. It did a lot of different things.

Chat

One thing Hangouts gave me, was a chat system that I could easily use from my computer and my phone, and that didn’t super compress images when my wife and I would exchange kid pics when I was on a trip.

Signal looks like it will be my more or less full replacement for that this year. It’s based on an open and secure protocol, and there is an electron desktop app that seems to work quite well. It also seems to be where a critical mass of the folks I chat with regularly have landed, so nudging over the few stragglers will hopefully not be that hard.

Group Chat

I’m using Slack a lot for work, and for HV Open. Our completely dead IRC channel became a more lively rolling conversation once we moved that community to Slack. And it’s a much better place for a rolling conversation than this long standing group Hangout that we had going a year ago. I’m no longer actively involved in any open source project that uses IRC as their communications base (Home Assistant uses Discord which I start from time to time), so I haven’t run IRC for the better part of a year.

Video

The other thing that Hangouts gave me was convenient video platform that mostly just worked (even on Linux). Fortunately Zoom does that even better. Citizens’ Climate Lobby uses Zoom extensively, and I’ve been using it whenever I can instead of phone calls. Video is so much more expressive. We’ve even had pretty good luck linking in external participants to our CCL monthly meetings.

Hangouts video was also how I called home during business trips. There will be less of those in 2019, but I’ll see how zoom works on the mobile side this year.

Blogging

I really want to be blogging more often again. This blog is self hosted WordPress. We’ll see if this sticks once I’m back in the office and time slips away. While I’m not planning to drop out of social media in 2019, I do think that giving them less exclusive content is a good thing, and posting more here in the open is good. I use Feedly to read a lot of blogs, so if anyone else who reads this is also writing, drop your RSS url in the comments, and I’d happily follow you on the open internet instead of in a closed garden.

Email / Texting

Email is always good as well. You can always find me at sean at dague dot net. Easy enough. Email has inertia, I get it. Texts are good as well. I’ve tried to go out of my way and check in on folks a little more than I used to, which means my text messages are a thing now (and never used to be). We’ll see how many of those folks (who are not computer people) I can convince to hop to Signal this year.

I do wish Google didn’t auto abandon everything it created, but given that it does, at least there feels like there are good replacement tools now.

Facebook. Sigh.

Quitting Facebook is often an act of the privileged. (Note that lower income teens are about twice as likely to use Facebook as teens from richer families.) It’s fine for white men like me to get pissy and leave because we have other outlets for our grievances and newsrooms are filled with people who look like us and report on our concerns. Without social media, the nation would not have had #metoo or #blacklivesmatter or most tellingly #livingwhileblack, which reported nothing that African-Americans haven’t experienced but which white editors didn’t report because it wasn’t happening to them. The key reason I celebrate social media is because it gives voice to people who for too long have not been heard. And so it is a mark of privilege to condemn all social media — and the supposed unwashed masses using them — as uncivilized. I find that’s simply not true. My Facebook and Twitter feeds are full of smart, concerned, witty, constructive people with a wide (which could always be wider) diversity of perspective. I respect them. I learn by listening to them.

Source: Facebook. Sigh. – Whither news? – Medium

This post echos a lot of thoughts I’ve had around Facebook and social media in general. There are so many more questions than answers right now.

A Year in Podcasts

Every year my mix of podcasts changes up a bit, and the end of the year is worth reflecting on what I’ve been listening to.

Always on Top

These podcasts I’m always jumping to the top of my queue when a new episode comes out:

Skeptics Guide to the Universe – a great weekly dose of science and critical thinking. The crew also published a book this year which was incredible. The weekly Science or Fiction game on the show, is always a lot of fun. This has been in my bump to the top list for years, and I don’t see it changing any time soon.

Bombshell – 3 folks with incredible experience in and around the State and Defense departments take a deep dive on the week’s news through a national security lens. And drink. And ask guests what’s their favorite statistical distribution. And, the hosts and guests all happen to be women. This podcast wins the award for the one I’m mostly likely to recommend to folks out of the blue, and every single person that started listening after that thanked me for it.

Binges

I had two podcasts this year that I found, and immediately listened all the way through ignoring the Always on top rule above.

Farm to Taber – Sarah Taber is a crop consultant who has seen the ag industry from many different perspectives. She’s got incredible stories about things she’s seen on farms, and a system perspective that I found really interesting. She works really hard at showing that while a sustainable ag future is a great goal, the current narrative of “big ag bad, small farm good” really papers over a lot of complexity that’s really important if you want a sustainable future. Highly recommend if you are interested in how your food gets to your table, and she’s also great to follow on twitter.

2050: Degrees of Change – Johanna Wagstaffe is a CBC meteorologist, and put together the 6 part series last year which tells the story of what 2050 British Columbia in Canada looks like because of climate change. Every episode starts with the morning wake up interaction between a 10 year old girl talking with her “smart assistant” about what she needs to do that day. They then unpack one aspect of that with the best experts and modeling we’ve got today. The picture it paints is really powerful.

Climate and Energy

Because of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteer work, I started finding more and more content in the area to dive deep on issues. So a huge part of my listening feed includes that.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby Podcast – This is the mega feed. It includes the monthly lecture / meeting, the citizens climate university deep dives, citizens climate radio interview show, and recordings from sessions at conferences. I listen to most of it, and even got the administrator to up the published list to 100 so I could go back through some older content. I’m often listening to one of these when I’m driving down to our monthly meeting to set the mood.

The Interchange – this is a weekly dive in a pretty wonky way on energy and electricity sector from green tech media. The show can be a bit corny at times, but is great to understand how the electricity sector is actually changing in a greener way, and want some of the barriers are to it.

Warm Regards – Dr Jacquelyn Gill, paelo-ecologist from the University of Maine, and a bunch of other great rotating guest hosts talk about climate change topics, and bring in pretty amazing guests. I discovered it when they had someone from CCL on, and have been avidly listening ever since. I really like the approach they took recently in adding a new mini climate related piece of research at the end, because apparently climate change is making bears eat less salmon. This one also qualifies in the “Always on Top” category, but is in this list for thematic reasons.

Listen to Every One

There are a few more podcasts that I make sure to listen to every one.

The Mirror of Antiquity – My friend Curtis Dozier, who teaches Classics at Vassar College, now has a podcast about where we see ourselves in the ancient world. The episode on what it means to make a translation, and what parts of the original are really accessible was pretty amazing. As was the episode on the invention of Europe.

The Long Now – Both the monthly lectures, and the conversations from the interval are amazing. An organization who’s core tenant is to increase long term thinking (to the point that they write the current year as 02018), brings together some amazing folks. My favorite of the year was calls Soldiers and Scouts. It starts with wondering if the history of humanity is not unlike that of the robot uprising, where evolution has shaped us to be one thing, but we are in the process of rising up beyond our programming to be something more. The narrative works really well, and makes you think a lot about the way we think and react in the world. And, the seminar with Kim Stanley Robinson on climate change and science fiction was equally wonderful.

More Good Stuff

My podcast queue backlog is typically over 100 episodes. As I mostly listen when driving, flying, or doing yard work, there is lots of great stuff in my queue that I just dip in to from time to time. We’ll hit these fast for speed.

  • Commonwealth Club of California – they produce something like 400 events a year, and podcast most of them. I value this for new ideas and injecting something different into my feed.
  • Code Switch – a podcast on race in america.
  • The Churn – podcast about the Expanse TV Show (which is my second favorite show being produced right now after The Good Place).
  • Radiolab – a unique way of telling (mostly) science stories.
  • More Perfect – Radiolab team diving into the history of the Supreme Court. The episode on the 2nd amendment is a must listen.
  • Planet Money – A dive into economics. This year’s 5 part series on launching a satellite into space was great.
  • Planet Money the Indicator – 5 minutes each day about 1 number in the economy and what it means. I missed when they dropped the indicator from the show, and glad they just brought it back as a dedicated podcast.
  • Wait wait don’t tell me – NPR news quiz comedy show, mostly because 11am on Saturday is a time we’re never home any more. We also go to their live shows whenever they get close.
  • Imaginary Worlds – why we create worlds in scifi and fantasy, and what they mean to us.
  • 99 Percent Invisible – a look at design and the built world. You will never see the world the same way again.
  • The Allusionist – a deep dive into the oddities of the English language, with lots of humor and punning.
  • Benjamin Walker’s Theory of Everything – a truly unique podcast that blends fiction and non-fiction in a seamless way that often makes you wonder where the line is. I still need to catch up on the giant multipart series this year on fake news.

Hopefully Something for Everyone

Hopefully something in here caught your attention. My top recommendation if I can only recommend one new thing you listen to, is Bombshell. I also think that everyone would be well served by having more critical thinking in their life with Skeptics Guide. But everyone listens to things for their own reasons, so knowing why I like certain things might help you decide if you would as well.

I wish you happy listening in 2019 and beyond!

Tell the Complicated Story

It turns out that one of the solutions to get us all to talk to each other is to stop simplifying the narratives we use:

After the conversation ends and the participants are separated, they each listen to audio of their conversations and report how they felt at each point. Over time, the researchers noticed a key difference between the terrible and non-terrible conversations: The better conversations looked like a constellation of feelings and points, rather than a tug of war. They were more complex.

But could that complexity be artificially induced? Was there a way to cultivate better conversations? To find out, the researchers started giving the participants something to read before they met — a short article on another polarizing issue. One version of the article laid out both sides of a given controversy, similar to a traditional news story — arguing the case in favor of gun rights, for example, followed by the case for gun control.

The alternate version contained all the same information — written in a different way. That article emphasized the complexity of the gun debate, rather than describing it as a binary issue. So the author explained many different points of view, with more nuance and compassion. It read less like a lawyer’s opening statement and more like an anthropologist’s field notes.

After reading the article, the two participants met to discuss Middle East peace — or another unrelated controversy. It turns out that the pre-conversation reading mattered: in the difficult conversations that followed, people who had read the more simplistic article tended to get stuck in negativity. But those who had read the more complex articles did not. They asked more questions, proposed higher quality ideas and left the lab more satisfied with their conversations. “They don’t solve the debate,” Coleman says, “but they do have a more nuanced understanding and more willingness to continue the conversation.” Complexity is contagious, it turns out, which is wonderful news for humanity.

Source: Complicating the Narratives – The Whole Story

The article calls for a new approach to journalism which makes sure to tell the complex story, and not the simple one. It’s full of very specific ways of doing this, and why telling a 2 sided story isn’t the same thing as a complicated one.

One of the things that struck me most was how much this was the same as the motivational interviewing / active listening that is part of Citizens’ Climate Lobby training. When we pull back from interactions all being high stakes winner take all, and more about mutual explorations, we make a lot more progress understanding each other.

The Expanse Saved!

Given that my last post was about the Expanse getting cancelled, I’d be remiss to not write about the show getting saved. Amazon Studios has stepped up for Season 4 (… and possibly beyond?). The announcement happened at the International Space Development Conference where Jeff Bezos was getting an award.

Cas Anvar helped organize a panel on Science in the Expanse at ISDC, and tells an incredible tale of how that came to be, and how the whole evening went on The Churn. (Spoilers: this episode also deconstructs Expanse episode 308, so if you aren’t current in the show you’re likely going to ruin one of the best reveals of the season). Cas’s story is really amazing, and any fan is going to love it.

I’m really looking forward to Season 4, because book 4 is one of my favorites in the series.

If you haven’t been watching the Expanse yet, go check it out on Amazon Prime. Binge the first 4 episodes as a block before making up your mind on the show, because there is so much universe, and so many characters to set up.

‘The Expanse’ vs Syfy

The current third season of The Expanse will be the space drama’s last one on Syfy. The cable network has decided not to renew the show for a fourth season, with the last episode slated to air in early July. Alcon Television Group, which fully finances and produces the critically praised series, plans to shop it to other buyers.

The Expanse is one of the most well reviewed sci-fi series on TV, with the current third season scoring 100% on Rotten Tomatoes (vs. 95% for Season 2 and 76% for Season 1).

The cancellation decision by Syfy is said to be linked to the nature of its agreement for the series, which only gives the cable network first-run linear rights in the U.S. That puts an extraordinary amount of emphasis on live, linear viewing, which is inherently challenging for sci-fi/genre series that tend to draw the lion’s share of their audiences from digital/streaming.

Source: ‘The Expanse’ Canceled By Syfy After Three Seasons, Will Be Shopped | Deadline

After Dark Matter was cancelled last year, I really wondered if the Expanse would suffer the same fate. The cancellation has more to do with the set of deals Syfy made a few years ago when it was trying to get back into science fiction.

They wanted to get back on the map, but because they had been out of it for so long they mostly made deals where they bought the rights from a production company for television broadcast, but left the rest of it on the table. This let them get a full slate of shows more or less overnight, without having to foot the whole production cost for all of them. Fast forward 3 years, the sci-fi genre shows are doing really well, but mostly on the streaming / digital front. Syfy gets none of that. So their return on investment on those shows is pretty low compared to the shows they funded fully. In an attempt to up their ROI, they have been dumping the shows they don’t own, to do new ones they do. Like Krypton.

It all makes sense in a spreadsheet, but sucks for fans of the genre. I’m hopeful that Alcon will find a new home for the Expanse because it really is one of the most amazing shows I’ve ever seen. And it massively rewards rewatching. There are still 8 more episodes of Season 3 yet to air. And it’s been one of the best so far. So go buy and watch the Expanse on Amazon or iTunes to further nudge Alcon and any potential broads partners that it’s worth their while to support it.

The 10,000 Year Clock Under Construction

A clock designed to ring once a year, for the next 10,000 years has begun installation in the mountains of west Texas. This is a project of the Long Now Foundation, a group dedicated to promoting long term thinking. Human civilization is roughly 10,000 years old, so lets think about what the next 10,000 years might bring.

Clock of the Long Now – Installation Begins from The Long Now Foundation on Vimeo.

I really love this clock. I love the hope that it represents. We have a lot of challenges to solve to get there, but setting a milestone like this puts a stake in the ground that we’re going to fight to ensure there is someone hear it in 10,000 years.

The Long Now also has an excellent podcast / lecture series which you should add to your rotation.

 

Catskills Conf 2017

Sunrise club at Ashokan courtesy of Ruthie Nachmany – https://twitter.com/ruthienachmany

Yawp! YAWP!
Yawp! YAWP!
Don’t fall in the creek.
Hudson Valley Tech Ashokan Community.
Yawp! YAWP!
Yawp! YAWP!
Don’t fall in the creek.
Be as open and present as you can be.

That was the chorus of the theme song for Castkills Conf this weekend. Yes there was a theme song. Every day started with a musical riff on the talks of the day before by Jonathan Mann, who has been posting a song-a-day, every day, to youtube for a decade. You can go watch them for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (soon). This is one of the many wonderful ways that this event was unlike any tech event I’ve been to, and why it just became one of my favorite tech events I’ve ever been to.

At a typical tech event the focus is on getting a bunch of speakers, so much content, splitting folks into tracks on the topics they would be interested in, then packing that in from 9 – 5 (or later). People are exhausted by the end of the day. They also largely attended different conferences. At a 10 track conference, the only shared experience, if it exists, is keynotes. Which for larger conferences are purchased slots.

Catskills Conf was a single speaking track. There were only 10 speakers, plus a lightning talk session with 7 lightning talks. The talks were a shared experience for everyone. They were all about technology, the tech industry, and/or the intersection of tech with other aspects of our lives. And they were all incredible. I considered it quite an honor to be a part of the speaking lineup.

And when it came to speakers, the Catskills Conf team was extremely serious about having a diverse speaker list. Of the 10 speakers, the gender split was 3 men, 6 women, and 1 non-binary. 4 of 10 speakers were people of color. The lightning talks were equally diverse. It was such a stark contrast to what you typically see at a Tech event that it was in your face refreshing.

10 talks doesn’t seem like a lot for a 3 day conference, but in between them there were structured Activity times. Saturday afternoon there was a 2 hour activity block after lunch with options including black smithing, letter press, self defense, foraging, hiking (with historic interpretation of the Ashokan site), and bread making. Being a 75 degree sunny fall afternoon, I opted for the 2 hour hike, wandering through woods and along streams. I came straight back from that into my talk more energized than I’ve ever been for one.

These kind of breaks from sitting and listening to talks and doing something with your hands or feet gave was wonderful for processing what you were hearing. It also meant that by the end of the day instead of feeling like your brain was jelly, you had enough processing time that you were excited to talk about what you heard, or get to know the person sitting next to you at dinner and find out the fascinating things they were doing. Every night ended with a campfire and beer under the stars. Which was another place to talk and get to know more folks. You weren’t so overloaded during the day that you wanted to go off and hide and decompress afterwards, even those of us that are more on the introvert side.

A couple of folks even collected for a 6am sunrise hike on Sunday morning. I joined 3 others as we hiked under flashlights, losing the trail a couple of times, to a sugar orchard and sugar shack, while discussing the work one of the hikers was doing around infectious disease modeling and experiments with mosquitos, the bio mimicry work that another was doing trying to take queues from nature and work them into built materials, discussing bird migrations, tech meetups, and just generally exploring a beautiful area.

This was the 3rd year of Catskills Conf, but the first time I could make it. I’m going to be processing the event for weeks to come. There were so many moments that I really loved that aren’t here, it just doesn’t all fit. But one thing is for sure. I’m extremely excited about attending and participating in the years to come.

I’ll leave you with this really cool Catskills Conf 2017 wrap up video. It’s not like being there, but it gives you a flavor.