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Entries in conscious consumption (19)

Monday
Feb112013

Getting Smarter with Ting

A Subjective History of Telephony

  • It used to be so simple when I was a kid. There was this big avocado green pod on a hall table with a wheel with holes upon it. An attachment the size of a banana with two tangerines attached to the end of it was to be lifted and placed near the ear when it rang, or while using one's finger to move the dial with holes in it.
  • Some years later the big pod part was dispensed with and the banana with tangerines grew some buttons and flattened out some.
  • Then it turned into something more like a big bar of soap with more buttons. It lost the wires to the wall. That was cool.
  • Then it found a buddy that buzzed with a little number in a little window, telling you to pick up the giant bar of soap device and use it to call someone back.
  • Then the bar became smaller. Some folded. Some slid. Some unfurled flaps with more buttons and screens for talking and sending messages so short that one longed for the old days when a dime would buy three minutes. A lot could be said in three minutes that couldn't be said in just a few words on a screen!
  • Then it all became like NASA's mission control. That's where we're at now.

I'm a bit of a heel dragger when it comes to technology. That might actually make me surprisingly average but it rarely feels like it at the time. It took until 2001 before I got my first computer (I'm on my third now). It took until Kelli and I got engaged in early 2004 before I got us cell phones (by that time, all the work I did in the entertainment industry was behind me for the most part, and that would have been the time to use a cell phone. People kept reminding me so.) Only about a two years ago did I turn on text messaging. (Prior to that I derided it as a far too expensive thing since I did not have a plan nor did I want to pay for one. Finally we found some loopholes.) And now, God help us, we have smart phones. Finally? Already?

Ting

It's not really for the love of fumbling with devices in public. I assure you if it were not for the plan we have just taken on with a new provider, this news would break much later than this. Finally, after observing smart phone data plans for nearly two years, watching the name brand providers and a couple off brands, and yeah, sort of lusting after an iPhone, I happened on a company called Ting that offered the first really unique plan I'd seen so far. It's modularized and open ended. Use as much or as little as you need, and pay according to the increments you arrive at—indpendently measured among data usage, text usage, and voice. Need all voice? Can do. Lots of text, little voice, and modest data? Can do. Just use the stuff and pay according to the brackets you land in, each of the services cut into six brackets. It's not exactly a utility payment, down to the individual minutes and megabytes, but there's no overage, and no real need to feel a payment was given for services not used. How many times have Kelli and I used 350 anytime minutes and paid for 1000? We overpaid for underusing but one thing we NEVER did in nearly nine years with T-Mobster was go over the 1000 minute plan. Not even by a minute. Those rates were punishing. But then of course, we resented paying the same rate for our less chatty months. There was a company called Cingular (absorbed by ATT) that we once looked at years ago, long before the gnaw of smart phones upon our restraint.

Ting is owned by the same company as I've used for a couple years to manage my web domain names (and other sites I've worked on). Hover is a newer name for Tucows. So they didn't just turn up like mushrooms. And Hover has been enjoyable to call upon for help and transparent in their dealings. So I latched on to Ting and was talking them up long ago. Looking at their blog, Ting has been real helpful and reciprocal in helping people learn their model, and even how to do things that skirt their own plans. Compared to T-Mobster, they are fresh air.

Ting offers a referral program. Interested? You get $25 off your choice of phone or that much toward your first bill, and I get a bill credit. Nifty, eh? The link will recognize my name.

T-Mobster

With the old regime, we had some issues regarding two phones we got at the start of 2011 (and a replacement for one) that all went bad in the same way, rendering the things useless because their touch screens fell out of calibration at about four month intervals. It took some wrangling to get replacements for each of us. Kelli was pissed like crazy that they offered me one and not her, when she had the first and second ones go bad and all they did was shrug and tell her to go to Target and get a cheap no-contract phone and stick the SIM card in. Months after she did that, my own device acted up and that's when they crossed her. We finally found one dude who took the time and got two levels into the customer care phone queue and got some permission. But not before Kelli let fly with some choice pronouncements about perceived gender discrimination.

For a while around the months when we moved to Escondido and therefore were in proximity to old stores and new, we kept going in and getting repeated opinions on what could be done. There was enough difference to give us the clue that no one really cared. Or knew. So, getting wise, we began to come in to pay our bills (their website was a real hit-miss deal that kept kicking us off thanks to whatever browser plugins were used for certain modules) and first ask when our contract was over. We'd get different answers most times at different stores. Yep, repeatedly, we'd get to a few different stores and ask the same questions. 

When is our contract over?

When does the early termination fee start to decline and at what pace?

How come these phones require us to sign a two year contract but the devices themselves seem to last about a year or so? And why are we not readily entitled to a replacement if we're still paying for the phone through contract-rate fees?

We Need to Explore Our Options

Yeah. We had to let them have it. Each time, we were licking our chops at the prospect of finally jumping ship. Once we heard about Ting in early 2012, we were ready to go, and that was even before the second and third messed up phones. Could it be? A smartphone plan that didn't automatically cost the two of us over $110 for a shared plan? And no contract? And the ability to use or not use? Hell yeah!

We were tickled once by the prospect of getting our bill reduced by Kelli's two workplaces both having corporate deals for personal plans. T-Mobster did cut us in on that, and that's when we opted to add in the text messaging plan finally. I had also gotten us set up with Google Voice which extends the phone call and text options. Since I am so often at the computer and am not really a big phone call kinda guy, the calls I did make and take could be routed to the computer, through Google Chat. That saved us a lot of airtime and freed Kelli up to use her own phone in the field. (This was before both companies finally provided her with smart phones. Now she has three of the things here!) Because I ported my venerable cell phone number to Google Voice, I was free to change whatever phones it would point to. Kelli has not as of yet done that, so her venerable number is still the default for the phone, and she has a different Google Voice number that she barely uses. But we plan to change that soon so both our venerable numbers will go to GV first and then route to the otherwise anonymous numbers that the phones bear.

Winning the Lottery

 

 

Ting is a new company so they are trying out all sorts of ways to get their name out into the market. They have made some periodic buyout offers so people can get credits equivalent to whatever their early termination fees (ETF) amount to at the old service. Just last month the Ting blog posted there'd be another opening, and they'd cover up to $350/line. We just found ours were $100 a line. Almost worth paying. But I literally set a calendar alert to get me to the Ting site to sign up at 9:01pm (midnight, EST) on February 1 when the contest went live. A good thing too. I got accepted at 9:02. When we checked back at 10:15, the whole allotted $100,000 pool of money had been claimed. Our T-Mobster cycle ends on the 10th. We ordered the two phones (Samsung Transform Ultra) not really knowing much about Android or smartphones but feeling that the refurbished rate of $76 allowed us to get our feet wet in this brave new world. We ordered on Sunday night, the things shipped on Monday morning and when I awoke on Tuesday by around 10, the box was on my very desk. We activated in time to give T-Mobster the kiss off.

Now we get a final bill from the T-Mafia which we present to Ting, and they credit us the $200 to counter the sting of the ETF at T-Mob. It looks like they'll do the lottery again.

 

 

The March of Need

A couple things led me to be interested in a smartphone. One is that I tend to get jobs that are behind the wheel. I've skated by for a long time not really feeling the need. I know San Diego pretty well, but driving jobs aren't only about navigation. There's a bunch of other stuff that went on over at Specialty Produce where things could not be done so efficiently and quickly without the stuff. I never used a smart phone there but it was clear how much they make possible in an industry with goals that change by the season, month, week, day, hour, minute. More recently I've been driving for another vendor, now going to LA for a few routes a month. They are not corporate at all so there's no company phone coming my way. I don't know LA so well and with my position as more of a freelancer, I need to find some of my own answers while on the road. I've also taken to doing overnight trips to do two routes in one shot, but on consecutive days. So I'd be a bit disconnected without such a phone. 

The other reason I am interested in the smart phone is because of my web work. It's hard to think like a mobile device designer if you don't have a device to work with. And even that is but one opinion since there are so many competing designs. But getting to know how people are seeing sites is very instructive. Due to some proximity to do Kelli and her disabilities ministries work wrapping its tendrils around her, even to the point of her being on the website subcommittee, I'm finding those tendrils are reaching out toward me, just so she can do her work. And of particular concern to what her work is about is accessiblity. So I've been learning more about that. All told, the requirements for anyone doing web work these days is expanding in multiple directions.

As for Kelli's usage, her work is amply covered. Each job gave her a phone. But she can't just go modifying and updating it to her liking. So for her, the whole smartphone thing has been a mystery even as she's used two of them for a year or so. But when we do trips out of town, she's taken one and used it for navigation and some hints about local services. But otherwise, she considers it verboten. She's also finding herself doing more church conference work, flying across the nation as a board member and delegate. She's going to Korea this year for a World Council of Churches gathering. Before then there are a few national things to fly to. So she could use some more flexibility to stay in touch. It's a far cry from her letterpress bookmaking and word processor roots in the 90s.

Brave New World: A la Carte, Galore

It's not a mistake that I waited so long to get into this smart phone business. The rate plans always scared me off, but simply enough, there is so much more complexity to heap on. I have taken long enough to be able to use my computer without having major issues, and maybe without major confusion. But I've not wanted to jump onto the learning curve for smart phones. 

Given that I am less than a week in, there are plenty of workarounds and specs that I am trying to comprehend. The amount of options that the Android system introduces is one thing. Adding Ting's unique set of options in makes it more confusing. Adding Google Voice in makes some things real easy and others real odd. 

For example, I learned that Google Voice could be employed to send text messages not just through the Google Chat on the computer, but through the phone too. Doing it that way lets me bypass the SMS part of Ting's menu of options. Free texing? Fine with me. At the same time, placing a call using Google Voice does not bypass the airtime, and does not serve to reduce minutes even when on WiFi. Huh? Okay, I learned that's because GV is basically calling a local landline and that's forwarding to the destination. I learned of a workaround that lets me make calls using Groove IP, a Voice Over Internet (VoIP) app (like Skype) that piggybacks on the Google Voice connection to Google Chat, but only while on WiFi (at home, Starbucks, and anywhere else with an open connection, or a password-secured connection). The calls bypass Ting's accounting of minutes but are counted instead as data. It's an odd way to make a call! The accounting on that must get interesting. Will it be better to just use minutes or data? I can't tell.

The world of apps running in the background, and not being able to visually mind what goes on when I click off an app and into another... that has me puzzled. I know on the desktop, I can just see what's going on. I can get directly at the files I need. Don't need to worry about the meter ticking on data, or when it's time to use 3G or WiFi.

But all in all, once I learn the workarounds, the option is there at Ting to pay reasonably for usage. Their help and support pages are great because there the discussions are had about how to do all this stuff that you'd think they'd want to shut down. But because they are transparent and want to attract people who value that, they participate in the discussions about how to undercut their own plans! How cool is that?

Maybe Kelli and I will begin to intuit when the time is right to go ahead and use voice minutes (there are no night/weekend/same network freebies, so that's different), versus talking over the WiFi. It might be that if our talk had pushed us into a new "bucket," we'd have to pay the next incremented rate. Some of the jumps seem high—if you get caught at 110 minutes and are locked into pay for 500, sure. But that's sort of a license to just talk more, right on up to the 500 minutes, just to say you got your money's worth. If the minutes are counting close to the next level's threshold, then maybe jump over to a VoIP/WiFi trick like Groove IP and talk there for a while, especially if there's good clearance before that part of the package gets tipped over into the next bracket. It's a whole new thing.

The Fun Parts

I've been carrying a camera or a camera phone around since early 2005, so I've already been collecting things and later doing the rather boring task of copying files via USB to the computer, editing pictures in Photoshop, uploading to my site, and finally inserting pictures into my posts or at Facebook. It's pretty clumsy. There has been all sorts of blog material that got shelved because that process just didn't suit me every week I got something new to show. Of course all those snappy observations were perfect Facebook or Tumblr fodder before either of those platforms got dominant. Instagram and Pixlr-O-Matic and others make the sharing a tad more fun by not forcing me to think so much of the tech specs on the picture, and just to get the job done with some style. I look forward to that. Sharing them off to other desinations like Google Drive let me collect them with far less hassle than before.

Having a few musical/audio apps around helps. A guitar tuner I always have with me? Nice. Sound pressure level meter for some idea what my world is like? Handy. A pitch pipe to help me establish any chromatic tone? Yup. A generous and decent quality voice recorder that records to CD quality audio? Kick ass. (With a reservation being that the mic isn't going to be the best, but hey...)

And then there are the obvious benefits of having email along, and all the other cloud services.

But perhaps the greatest thing is having Wikipedia available to settle all those bar bets and needless arguments that people get into.

 

Tuesday
Oct052010

Technomessiahs, Redux

A week ago on my local PBS radio station I heard this show on Geoengineering—the range of ideas concerning global efforts to take some mighty heroic measures to combat the looming prospects of damage from climate change. Anytime I have heard this topic come up in the last year or so, my skin crawls and my stomach feels ill. It presents itself to me as science fiction, and dangerous fiction at that. To me it smacks of hubris on a level not ever seen before, except in some parallel movements in genetics and economics which are pushing into dangerous territory once regarded as the domain of the divine. It seems the kind of ambitious technological overreach that elicited a response from the Lord in Genesis, who watched humans building the great tower, something which was met with the confounding of language, meant to at least make it hard to get such ideas off the ground.

The technological genie has been out of the bottle for a couple of centuries now. Geoengineering is one more prayer for what I call the "technomessiah" to come and save us from, ironically, the other technomessiahs who have come in ever-accelerating fashion. The soul work associated with loosing ourselves from the technological straitjacket is too hard to do, it seems, so the de facto answer is to keep charging ahead into the same thing we desperately need to escape. I think I encountered the idea in Richard Heinberg's work, that civilization is one big unintended consequence of our first dabblings in toolmaking. The makers of flint axes could not have imagined our dilemma today, but it was a slow climb up a long ladder for millennia, with a quite noticable acceleration in the last 250 years ago, and certainly in the last century. What does it take to dare look down in preparation for a retreat from these dizzying heights?

Today the news let me know about the red tide of toxic sludge flowing through Hungary. The devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is still wreaking its havok. These are just two examples of humanity not having control over its technology. We're adolescents still, thrilled with our ability to make stuff, but seemingly unable to harness it. To be clear, I am not against technology per se, nor am I against invention and progress. I should be clear about that. But I do criticize the automatic reaction to meet problems with more advanced technology in lieu of maybe stepping back and changing priorities. Appropriate technology for a job is quite fine, but it takes discernment to know what that is, and not to automatically run to whatever is the latest and (supposedly) greatest. What I think has been a dangerous combination is how technological development has been taken to market for mass production even before we have a chance to understand what could follow. Most of the things we use now have no big impact if they were the only ones of their kind, but they are not—they are mass produced consumer goods that draw down resources and when used by individuals according to individual priorities, and not social vision, will bring us to where we are now.

The answer that keeps presenting itself to me is to revisit and learn from the great spiritual traditions that guide us in how to relate to one another, to creation, to our creator. What is needed is literally a counter-cultural response to our great dilemmas. A counter-cultural response might emerge from any of the great traditions that predate our love affair with our technological development in the industrial age; those traditions have a memory of a life before the creative explosion that has paradoxically led us to the crisis of our time that is being met in certain circles with the grandiose ideas of geoengineering. Those traditions are the only things that frame life as inherently hard, and that instruct people in possible ways to move gracefully nonetheless. Our love affair with technology has much to do with our aversion to difficulty. I guess one thing that bothers me about the geoengineering ideas is that they presume an inability to change the fundamentals. They don't require the soul work to change the underlying problem. We might embark on a project like that with the unbridled expectation of economic growth, even though that has been the leading cause of our greatest problems.

The soul work of relinquishment, humility, love for others is all hard work but I feel it is the work that will draw us back from our dangerous place. Tapping into that consciousness will be the liberation we need from the thought structures that have brought us here, a place of neurosis, unable to cope properly with the technological genie we have loosed on the world. We're really quite miserable this way. Isn't it time for something else?

Friday
Mar122010

Special KKK

an unfortunately named box of special k cereal: special kkkOkay, maybe this was just a mistake, or maybe the Alabama shipment accidentally got channeled to the San Diego Costco. Special KKK?

Monday
Jan122009

Boycott Progress

If memory serves me correctly, it has been 20 years now since I intentionally patronized a McDonald's food-selling establishment. I forgot the date but I remember it was sometime in January 1989 when I last went. Since then, the only times I have eaten their stuff has been the handful of times that I was doing gigs and someone would be going out for the food and that was all that was on offer for the day. Or there were similar times when I would be on a roadtrip or tour and the truck was only going to make one stop for 300 miles. Aside from that, my record has been impeccable and I have withheld my presence from their establishments.

ed flipping the bird to a wal mart truck on the freewayI have stayed out of WalMart for many years too. The last time I bought something there was in early 2002 when I needed to get a pack of video tape. And prior to that, there were hardly any trips to the Evil Empire. The time before that comes to mind was in late 1996 when I was on tour with Mike Keneally and the band had to stop in Joliet, Illinois for some soap or something. And that was my entire Wal Mart shopping experience.

Sunday
Dec212008

Story Of Stuff

Maybe this is a bit late to do any good this Christmas consumer-glutton season, but next year may be different. Be sure to watch the full version of the film at Story of Stuff dot com.

Tuesday
Dec022008

Advent

Sunday
Aug242008

We Now Return To Our Regularly Scheduled Human Rights Violations

stark image poster of america and a giant made in china stamp across it.Made in China: Because we needed cheap shit more than good jobsI wasn't really enthralled by the Chinese showboating these last few weeks. It all seemed like a distraction from the world-as-know-it-is. All this talk about the games being "about the athletes" is bullshit too, because there is clearly a lot of national ego on the line in any of these games, else we could scrap the ridiculous opening and closing ceremonies and just show contests of physical ability.

So Phelps cleaned up. I don't mean to rain on his parade—I certainly can't do what he does. (Hell, I can't even swim.) But think on this for a moment. You know he will be the darling of a lot of companies who want to put his name and image on their goods. And you can bet that some of that will be made in China at the sorts of factories and sweatshops that China would like you to not see in full disclosure. You know, the ones where people work seven days a week and 12 or 14 hours a day, and where people live in factory dorms and are escorted to work each day by security goons, and back again to their cramped rooms where they are responsible for paying for their own utilities back to the factory.

How much of what we buy in our fervor for the games will only make the situation worse? Isn't that the contradiction of our age? I can't help but think of how China is getting rich off our inability to shut off the endless flow from our wallets. Well, someone is getting rich, while the workers who prop up that whole system are experiencing their version of what our nation experienced a century ago when we struggled to figure out how to industrialize, and the industrial world had to in fact figure out how to make citizens into consumers in order to actually consume and use the things which the industrial process was now capable of making. Our growing pains included fights for union representation and social justice concomitant with that. It included the fight for an eight hour work day and weekends. Basically, it fought for human dignity in the face of the growing power of the Machine.

But China itself seems to be a machine. And the Olympic games were the user-friendly front end of it, but what lurks beneath?

Sunday
Aug032008

How Does Your Garden Grow?

ed holding the attitude adjuster, a weapon of grass destructionMe with my weapon of grass destructionWhen we got to our house in Bay Park, the yard was dingy and mostly grown over with grass and weeds. Most of it still is like that, except for our precious little garden which is now in its second season. Last year we were a bit more careful about what was planted. We picked a range of things to try out but it was all picked out to the last plant or seedling. As we went, we fed the compost bin and kept a pretty good balance and got some nice black loam from the city-supplied black igloo. Only a bit of it went back to the garden. It took a good long time to actually fill it up so I was hesitant to dig any of the decayed material out. It would cook better if it was left to fill and decay, and the summer heat would accelerate that process.

Then I got the gig as veggie monger, and have brought home a lot of veggies not only to eat but I've captured some waste product and fed it to the bin. All in all, there are a great many types of veggies and fruits which have joined the delightful decaying heap.

Usually, the idea is to keep the mix in balance between carbon and nitrogen sources, or the balance between the living and the dead, the newly picked stuff and the dried out stuff like sawdust, cardboard, and so forth. I think Kelli jumped the gun and spread some of it before it was hot enough for long enough to cook out the seeds. The stuff was certainly black, but I guess it would need to have been left to cook for a few months in order to kill the seeds. Anyhow, some of this stuff got turned into the garden soil in a few places—not uniformly because of the existing plants and their roots—and within a few days, we began seeing the um, fruits of our mistake.

That is, if you can call free plants "mistakes." What we got was a whole bunch of tomato plants that started cropping up just where the compost was prematurely mixed into the land. How many varieties of tomatoes have I brought home either to eat or to feed the bin? I have no idea, but there were some hardy seeds in there that took advantage of the extra rich soil! Now our garden has a number of tomato plants scattered about and though we've dug out many that would be far too densely clustered, there are way more tomato plants than the two we ever planted this year! We don't know which of the new ones will turn up what sort of fruit, though one is looking like it is turning up some green heirloom type. Our intended plants are Romas, and little tiny things at that. But I guess we need not worry about our tomato supply this summer. We may need to make new friends in order to give them away!

the beanstalk rose up to roof level and moreThe beanstalkIn a slightly more restrained way, there are some eager volunteer pepper plants which are cropping up in just as random a fashion. A short couple steps away there turned up a whole bunch of corn plants that had to be thinned. The earlier, intended corn was not any good so we composted that and apparently some of that wasn't cooked well either so it was more than happy to take root. Kelli has dubbed the region "chaos corner" as the new volunteers blur the lines of the old rank-and-file layout of the original planting. Tomatoes and peppers are now mingling among rosemary, basil, chard, jalapenos, green onions, strawberries, and the amazing bean plants that have scaled their poles up to the height of the crest in the roof, about 12 feet in the sky! (It takes a ladder to harvest that one.) Also volunteering is a big plant—a vine of some sort—that looks like it either has a round green squash or a watermelon on it. We don't even know what awaits us.

I went and got a truckload of the more usable topsoil compost from the landfill. Apparently that stuff is cooked for at least two months in massive heaps, and is let to break down. This is my third such truckload of black earth; the first was for the initial planting, the second one excited the garden some months later. For only $5 for a full Toyota load full (dumped in with a giant skiploader), you can't go wrong. This time we just spread the stuff out instead of trying to mix it in. The first couple applications of that much compost and other amendments was not easy using only manual labor and hand tools. This time I was hoping to apply it in a blanket fashion so that it might retain water during these hot months, and to also remain a looser soil. The existing soil, despite some amendments, had the tendency to get packed more.

kelli planting and tending the garden in the eveningKelli planting new veggies at Nashville St.I find gardening enhances my spiritual perspective both as spectator and participant. There is life and death; intention and chance; chaos and order, and other life lessons that reveal themselves to the attentive soul. I don't even do as much of this as I would like; work is quite a task that fills my days. I do fancy it an art. It is a joy to come home and see my little plot (about the size of a nicely sized bedroom—about 200 sq ft) defy logic on a daily basis. The bean pole itself was something to watch as it rocketed up the wire grid then the short bamboo then the long bamboo. While I don't end up harvesting or tending the plants as much as Kelli does, I do end up working the compost, and there is a lesson in there too. Even the compost retrains a mind to see that there is less waste out there that can't be put to good use. So it fosters an alertness and a resourcefulness that maybe can't be learned the same way in daily life around computers, plastic, and other stuff that defines our daily environment. The compost is full of worms and bugs of all sorts delighting in my detritus, and who, when spread around the garden, work more diligently than I to make it a great place that will hopefully provide quality nourishment, and the means to share and meet people, or deepen other relationships. Like I found last summer after I was fired from a job that did not appreciate me, the tomatoes spoke in opposition to that. The tomatoes from two plants were there to greet me the next day, full of life and color, and really, full of grace. Grace, I say, because there was only so much I did for them, the rest was mostly miraculous outworkings of the universe at large, all things beyond my control. The tomatoes didn't grow like they did because I earned it in any way. They just are. Tomatoes are only tomatoes. They lead lives with no complications and pretensions such as we know. And on that day a year ago, they instructed me that is was okay to just be. It is rather like what Jesus said about the birds of the sky having no worries. God will take care of things for us just like for the birds. If we let it be so.

But back in "reality" there are perfectly good economic and social reasons to hone one's green thumb. I think though that while people will understand that most readily, given the prices for the food that is provided commercially, the intangible quality of gardening will also infect people's souls too. I think it is a good thing as we realize that a lot of technological promises have been made that can't be kept. Gardening instructs us to live by our sensibilities, in consideration of nature and her rhythms and laws, in community, and with the satisfaction of knowing that even beyond the satisfaction of our own work, there is a dose of grace that touches the whole thing. If it were Forrest Gump speaking, he'd say, "you never know what you're gonna get." And contrary to the materialist view of the world with its various methods for analyzing and measuring trade-offs, that isn't all bad. (I don't know if I have technically broken even on my total investment, nor do I really care. The reward is substantial in ways that can't be measured.) The human drive to conquer nature is what is killing us, both as creatures and as human beings. The whole project of civilization involves being at war with nature, but maybe we should reflect on the ways in which we can be "civilized" and kill ourselves, or be civilized and still enjoy a world worth living in, where life can be witnessed and cherished, even in the null points of death. It might take restraint. Or maybe it will take the breakdown of The Machine. Gardening isn't anti-science or anti-technology. Rather it depends on observation and the use of various means to work toward a positive end—hopefully one that allows people dignity beyond basic survival. But what we have now is an over-reach of science-backed technology, and it is one that is killing us in so many ways we don't even realize it.

For now, I await the randomness of whatever the universe sees fit to provide in my little patch of dirt in the back yard. And, I consider myself lucky to have the dirt at all.

Thursday
Jun282007

Walk The Talk?

Lest anyone think of me as a dreamer/idealist and possibly a hypocrite when I speak for the need to be more sensible in our daily habits, here is my report on certain efforts to pinch my pennies (not pinch my penis—that's a whole other activity) and possibly steal a little less from the future than others who don't yet see the point and therefore don't really do anything to conserve.

I got my truck when it was about 79,000 miles old, but let's call it 80,000 for this demo. It turned 200,000 on the last day of 2006, and I parked it that day when it read 200,006. How clever, eh? Anyhow, that date was only a few months after my anniversary date of purchase. For the ten years I had it, it was driven about 12,000 miles a year. As for this year's driving—half a years' worth at this point—I have driven about 3,300 miles only. If that trend continues out to about 6,600 this year, that will be about half my average for the previous ten years! Of course, I didn't just cut my driving down by almost half in just the turn from 2006 to 2007; I had been paring it down rather well for the past few years, with 2002 being the first year when I became sensitive to conservation enough to start to practice it. In the recent past, I found my mileage is about 23 miles a gallon, with a slight variance. Recently, I got 326 miles on what seems to be a 14 gallon tank. People talk about getting a new car that uses less fuel because they can't bear the thought of using their existing car in a smarter, more intentional way. I don't consider it a good idea to sign up for debt for the next several years. I never liked that idea and hate it more given our rocky economic picture ahead. To me, it makes better sense to just drive less, drive smarter.

As for water habits, I don't ever use a dishwasher at all. Never have except maybe as a guest at someone's house. So call me old fashioned. I fill a sink (if I fill it at all) with some water, then do a bunch of dishes, and turn the rinse water on as little as possible, often turning it off between dishes if I can't smoothly move them through fast enough. More and more, I try to capture cleanish rinse water (or water for boiled eggs) and use it to throw to the garden. In the shower, I have low flow hardware and take the three minute shower if possible, though shave days are a bit longer since I have yet to really change that habit. But I do it only twice a week if possible. I am quick at the sink with hand washing, and turn off the tap when I brush my teeth. Some may think it is gross, but the toilet habit (possibly the worst offender, both in redundancy and volume) is to flush less when it is not obviously necessary. So it can be a bit unflattering to the uninitiated. So what. This is more important than image. The site at Humanure.com tells us there are only two types of people in the world: those who shit and piss in drinking water and those who don't. So, at the risk of being a little uncivilized, but possibly in a good way, I try to cut the flushes a bit. An open window is always a great help too.

Now that I have a garden, almost all the scraps of food that can be composted, are. And interestingly enough, I eat more food now that can be composted. I've not actually turned vegetarian or anything, but there is far more plant matter around the house now, some in the garden and some on my table. The veggie scraps are compost delight. So are the recycled paperboard egg cartons, bread, coffee grounds, and egg shells. So it all goes in. I got some nice looking rich compost now. It is a far more useful way to use garbage than to just send it to Miramar. The garden does take watering, but whenever I can, I try to claim back water from partially used drinking glasses, sink rinse water. (And one day, when I actually do so, the shower water while waiting for it to heat up, but mercifully for me, the water heater is just outside the bathroom and so therefore it comes on hot in less than a gallon or so.) The garden usually gets watered in the morning, hopefully not timed so that it all evaporates before it actually does any good. I open up the soil a bit periodically so it has some inroads.

I personally only do full laundry loads, and still use the dryer a bit more than I should (usually because I do laundry at the wrong times of day), but Kelli has taken to using lines outside for more and more of our laundry. There is something nice about that task of putting it out and taking it down. It is sort of meditative time. I don't have a problem doing it, but for the clumsiness of sometimes dropping things to the dirt and therefore needing to rewash things. Whatever I do of the laundry, I usually do heavy loads so things aren't running forever. Still a work in progress though.

I have all my lights running the compact fluorescents now, but for one little 4x20 watt halogen swivel bar, which equates to less than one 100 watt bulb, so I let it slide. It's my mood light/spot light for wall art. I try to be attentive to things being on, but admittedly there is some slop. My whole house now is a lot smaller so it takes less to light it. So far, we've only turned the heater on a time or two to see what it would do, but we find that closing the doors and windows is good enough to keep it comfortable. Two of the three computers sleep; one refuses to sleep without crashing in the process, so it stays awake, but has an LCD screen which is a bit more sensible than a CRT, if I remember correctly. Unfortunately for us our oven is a classic electric oven and energy pig, but we don't use it but for things that simply don't fit in the far more commonly used toaster oven. Our microwave went on the fritz a few months ago, and after cursing our luck, we decided to put it in the garage and see what happened. Life did not end. Suzanne has one in her space, but we hardly ever use it, and when we do it is to defrost some meat or something. I still think we need to plan to use fewer appliances, but the ones we do use are pretty direct in their heating—a tiny George Foreman grill; a veggie steamer; coffee maker; toaster oven; rarely used blender; almost never used Crock pot. I find that I prefer a side-by-side fridge because more stuff can be put at eye level, but that is not the type I have now, so I admit to some bad fridge habits of having to search by opening the thing too often. Since I have mostly abandoned my musicianly alter ego, the studio is not put together now and therefore, there must be several pieces that sat idle for long periods of time that now are in crates and boxes.

So, there it is. A work in progress and still more to do, but I think I am off to a decent start. I think that if further conservation is called for, it will be less shocking to have accepted it and practiced it to some degree than to just start from a lifestyle that made no prior concessions to sensible use.

Tuesday
Jul042006

In(ter)dependence Day

In an urban society everything connects, each person's needs are fed by the skills of many others. Our lives are woven together in a fabric, but the connections that make society strong also make it vulnerable. —Threads, 1984

Last month I read Rabbi Michael Lerner's book, The Left Hand of God. His vision for America is that we should do better than we have been doing in the current milieu of greed, fear, and inequality. He has been adamant that the bottom line thinking we now share in is morally bankrupt and needs redress. Near the end of the book, he encourages us to examine our national mythology, and the holidays we celebrate. He offers that maybe Independence Day needs to be recast as Interdependence Day so that we begin to gather around the profound understanding that we are not islands, either apart from one another nor from other events in the world or in history itself.

Long before I started taking this stuff seriously, I posited that America's love affair with independence and individualism was going to get the better of us. About six years ago, when I wrote my song Suburban Silhouette, I noticed that our housing and land development "plan" was a manifestation of our love affair with independence and solitary living, but was also a major player in our social decay. Living outside of community is not a human way of life. We will realize this soon enough, as one of those painful lessons that history periodically teaches. Community living is not a hallmark of our current mode of living. Our lives today more resemble industrial artifacts, or maybe a live-by-numbers sort of existence. It's a lie that industry and advertising would like us to swallow that we are individuals if we buy this good or that, or patronize this service or that. We fabricate our "individuality" from an established and mostly widely available collection of pre-made artifacts that are for sale to those who can afford them. The self-made citizen is no more. However, that does not lead us to community, only undue dependence on a fuel-fed industrial process for delivering goods and services. Just because we are in a web of interdependence does not mean we live in community. Sorry, but a web of franchise fast food outlets and big box retailers and mortgage lenders and Amazon.com does not constitute an organic community of people who work to share in the profits of their own work and those of the people around them.

Living face-to-face communities are not founded by land speculators and developers. They are not founded by Wal Mart in Bentonville. They are not founded by Ray Kroc. They are not founded by Ford and GM. They are not created by transportation authorities. They are not the creation of oil companies. They are not created by abstract expressionist or postmodern artists. They are not founded by investors from overseas. They are not created by defense contractors or government agencies. They are not created by eBay. They are not created by philanthropic institutions. All these institutions may be able to create infrastructure and establish some sort of networking across hitherto unbreachable boundaries, but communities do not exist solely because of these institutions and their technologies or design cleverness.

I don't know what the prospects are for real human community in America. It has been killed in large part by greed. Greed has been a wolf in sheep's clothing. It has been smuggled into our land like a Trojan horse that was presented to us as a gift from industry and capitalist corporations. The old rhetoric of "what's good for corporations is good for America" is bankrupt. What is good for a corporation is good only for a corporation—to a point. It's bad for the nation, it's bad for the world, and ultimately, it's bad for the corporation in the long run. What will these hallowed corporations and industries have to provide us when the resource base is depleted? Or when we are all put out of work that would allow us to even buy things? Or when the population crashes due to overshoot/famine/disease/war?

A century of indulgence is a hard addiction to break. Addiction to leisure, individualism, and selfishness is not particularly a natural thing. Advertising-propaganda was designed to help deconstruct conventions of human life that leaned toward community welfare (not an entitlement program, you know). After all, a company with a good to sell can only sell so many of those widgets to a family if four or six people are using one widget. The way to sell a few more widgets is to condition people to own their own. What was once the "family TV" is now "one TV in each room and a DVD player in the Suburban." Same with cars themselves. By intentionally cultivating a culture that does not need to share, we not only lose the virtue of sharing, but we lose the benefits too. Sharing something like a TV, or a car, or other things that many people can use at once also kept people in proximity to each other which is conducive to talking and maintaining a life together. A TV show or movie, no matter how bad, is at least a shared experience to enter dialog that one hopes could lead to some understanding among the parties involved, and some exposures to other world views. With a shared car, people who need to cooperate to get places also need to cooperate more to be home together. More shared home time is the wellspring from which community comes in other areas of life. Relating to one's own kin is the cornerstone of society, and unfortunately, a lot of what passes for life now is geared toward diminishing or demolishing that web of relationships. We are at the third generation or so that is being raised in a world like this; those born today, the sons and daughters of people who themselves were born to the Baby Boomers who were the first generation born into a world of consumerism, are going to be that much more removed from the central familial relations that foster community. My dad's generation was the first to really grow up in a world of great material excess and unbridled consumptive habits and the distancing from community richness that seems to go hand in hand with that access to goods. I was born just as that way of life was coming of age, and it's all I have lived. People around my age who have children are giving another generation to this way of life. Who or what will keep a community ethic alive in their lives?

Nature just might be able to help, but it's the sort of help we wouldn't ask for. Eventually our energy-lavish consumption-based lifestyle will crumble a little at a time, and it will be helped along by irresponsible, self-interested politicians who believe that war and greater consumption (by those who still can do so) is the answer to our fading empire of consumption. Eventually, work and play will have to happen nearer to home. We might be confronted with the unthinkable of today: actually cooperating with people we've been told are our enemies—family, neighbors, people of color, poor people, and others. There will be holdouts of course. Some people in America just can't get out of their Antebellum mindset. But, I think for the majority of people, the trend will be clear. Either we inter-depend, or we die.

People aren't as scary up close as when they are wrapped in a ton-and-a-half of steel that goes 80 miles per hour. They're not as scary when they stand before you and aren't just objectified in the news or by other media. I keep saying it, but I don't have enemies in Iraq. Or in Afghanistan. The people I fear are not the poor people of the world outside of America who are lashing out against the injustice we bring. If anything, I am more scared of a nation of addicts in America who forgot how to share, who forgot how to be civil, who forgot how to be humble and generous, who forgot to appreciate beauty and natural complexity, who forgot how to live outside of technology. Maybe Roosevelt's statement about only having to fear is fear itself rings true. I fear Americans who fear loss. I'm more worried about people who will do anything to retain the last shards of entitlements long after they are clearly unsustainable. I fear Americans with what I call "cranial-rectal displacement disorder" (head-up-the-ass complex) in the face of global climate change, shifting alliances, fascism, and a host of other nightmares of our time. Instead of being on the same page with regards to key issues, the off-kilterness of society now will make it hard to get people to put down the pursuit of more material wealth and land and get on board with some real progress toward rebuilding shattered community life that has been replaced by computers and mass media which is essentially not able to connect with real people at the local level. There is no substitute for people in real contact.