Gigahertz And The Abacus

I’ve been shopping for a new modem. The tin cans and string we’re currently using simply aren’t fast enough anymore to keep up with our home data demands. I want my Darwin awards videos instantly. Anyway, I figure the prudent thing to do would be to check in with our current service provider and figure out what modems are on their “approved” list.

I asked the support person if they have a modem that supports 5 GHz wireless channels as well as the standard 2.4 GHz. That didn’t seem like a difficult question for someone who answers the support line for a telecommunications company. Her first reply was “The website has a list of modems”. I informed her that I knew that, but the list doesn’t include specs so I was trying to avoid spending hours individually looking up each modem and finding data sheets. Silence. Crickets. I asked her if, she didn’t know, could she possibly go ask someone else? After being on hold for long enough to write the next great American novel, she came back with one of the best technical answers I’ve heard. “Sir, our modems have speeds.” Uh, what? “I checked and they said all our modems have speeds.”

We’re doomed. Technology is advancing at a frightening rate. We rely upon complete connectedness and data infrastructure in every aspect of our daily lives. Unfortunately we’re busy creating a front-line service sector that probably has trouble operating the TV remote. This does not bode well for the future. Kids, do you have facial tattoos, ear gages, or a degree in art history? Then you’re a perfect fit for the exciting world of telecommunications technical support! No experience needed!

Which reminds me of a news item that came out this morning. Per testimony being given for Clinton scandal number 1,234 it turns out that the former Secretary of State did not have a computer in her office. Why? Because she did not know how to “do email” on a computer, only on her Blackberry. The head of a department that employed tens of thousands of people and had a budget of $65+ billion dollars can’t figure out how to “do email” on a computer? I’m flabbergasted that in today’s technology centric world such dinosaurs still exist. For gods sake, Facebook became uncool because it’s user base became 90% grandmothers and aging soccer moms. Its been a year or two since these new fangled computer things were invented. Claiming technological illiteracy no longer flies.

Why on earth would we keep putting people like this in charge? This is not an indictment memo(no pun intended) of Clinton – I’m sure there are swaths of pointy-haired managers across government with the same lack of qualifications. Could you imagine any corporate board today voting to hire a new CEO who isn’t capable of using an email program? I’m fairly certain the days of the abacus and having your secretary “take a memo” are over.

I’m starting to think it’s time to just unplug and enjoy the simpler things. A bike ride. Reading a book. But then I realize I’d miss watching crazy ass wingsuit flyers. And, at guaranteed ludicrous download speeds! (ludicrous speed is theoretical. your speed may vary. ludicrous speed only available with 8 year contract extension)


Colonel Sandurz: Prepare ship for light speed.
Dark Helmet: No, no, no, light speed is too slow.
Colonel Sandurz: Light speed, too slow?
Dark Helmet: Yes, we’re gonna have to go right to ludicrous speed.

On Camping. And Totes.

Last weekend I went car camping. It’s been awhile. The last number of years have been more focused on river trips, backpacking, and a mega land-yacht RV. All of which arguably have components of camping, but are not exactly the same. To me, “campintrucksterg” is loading up the family truckster, driving to a designated forest service campground and unloading a mountain of gear at a designated “site”. Said site shall contain one rickety picnic bench, one fire ring, tent sites that are on a mandatory slope of at least 30 degrees, and easy access to a standard forest service toilet that contains horrors that shall not be mentioned.

While all of those items are worthy of discussion, it’s the mountain of gear that befuddled me. With backpacking and river trips you have clear space limitations, so you’d think that I would be good at packing efficiently. Apparently those rules don’t apply when car camping. I looked at the volume of space I had in the pickup truck and lost my mind. I packed gear for every possible contingency. Enough clothing to cover temperature ranges from  Death Valley to the top of Everest. I brought enough lighting products to perform neurosurgery at midnight. Small, medium, and large flashlights. A 5 pound lantern powered by 6 D-cell batteries. A headlamp. And a backup headlamp just in case. What did I actually use? The 2 inch mini flashlight one time, while digging around in the cooler for another beer. I had approximately 2,000 feet of utility cord, mosquito nets, shaving mirrors (but no shaving kit), tools, zip ties, plastic zip lock bags, a compass (we never left the campground), a broom, and at least four different drinking cups. All told I think I had three full duffle bags, a backpack, a cardboard box, a cooler, a half cord of firewood, an air mattress that was too big to fit in the tent, and a ten pound folding chair. I briefly considered renting a trailer but that would have been… excessive.

Within the first half hour at camp all this gear somehow exploded, covering the camp site. And when it rained – it all came into my little tent. I slept surrounded by mountains of stuff. The contents of every duffle bag had been pulled out and strewn everywhere, looking for the extra pair of socks I was sure I had. When it came time to leave there was no careful packing and organizing. Everything got stuffed into one giant pile into the back seat of the truck, which is now spread across the garage, the basement, and the kitchen. I plan on cleaning and putting it all away any day now. Promise.

I vowed never again. I will become the Martha Stewart of camping organization. I’ve spent approximately 45 hours researching camping organization web sites. I have visions of campkitchencolor coded plastic totes, camp kitchen boxes, and gear organizers. In my mind I’ve been crafting plans for adding a camper shell to the truck and building fantastic storage options so I’m ready to camp at a moments notice. I will craft laminated efficiency checklists and pare all equipment down to the bare minimum.

And then I stumbled across the Sprinter van. I am now officially obsessed. This is the ultimate car camping vehicle. Small enough you can drive it sprinteranywhere. Big enough you can comfortably sleep and have all your gear available. There’s whole community dedicated to van life. I could be ready to go fishing, to faraway hikes, climbing, escape the zombie apocalypse, a horrific nuclear accident, or just plain old camping at a moments notice. It works for campsites, boondocking, sleeping at truck stops, or Walmart parking lots. Never mind that I average about two camp trips a year. The point is that I could if I wanted to.

Now I just have to convince Mrs. troutdog. Or I could just buy more totes.

—————————–
Clark: I think you’re all fucked in the head. We’re ten hours from the fucking fun park and you want to bail out. Well I’ll tell you something. This is no longer a vacation. It’s a quest. It’s a quest for fun. You’re gonna have fun, and I’m gonna have fun… We’re all gonna have so much fucking fun we’re gonna need plastic surgery to remove our goddamn smiles! You’ll be whistling ‘Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah’ out of your assholes! I must be crazy! I’m on a pilgrimage to see a moose. Praise Marty Moose! Holy Shit!

Solving The Wrong Problem

On this day in the year two thousand sixteen of the common era, 18 days and 15 hours after it began, my green home experiment died a quiet death. My sad little recycle bin only contained several junk mail flyers, a popsicle stick (not recyclable), and a paper plate that probably shouldn’t be there because it’s coated with wax. Do I wish good things for my codyplanet? Of course. I carry the same first world guilt that many Americans do. I fear photoshopped pictures of frightened polar bears desperately clinging to their shrinking icebergs. The image of Iron Eyes Cody, a tear streaming down his face as he watches garbage callously tossed from a vehicle haunts me. But, I’m also terribly lazy and trying to figure out what can and can’t be recycled was a pain so that was the end of that.

After a brief pang of guilt, I moved on. I’m an adaptable guy. But it does highlight a common human problem. We invest tremendous amounts of energy in solving the wrong problems. Trying to solve the solid waste management problem by forcing people at the trashend of the chain to dutifully sort and separate their trash is doomed to fail. National participation rates hover in the 20-30% range. With the exception of aluminum, recycled materials are a net cost and energy loss. Virgin plastic resin costs 40% less than recycled plastics. Raw silica sand used for glass production is around $20 a ton vs $40 to $60 for recycled glass. A quote I either found or made up regarding the efficiency of recycling is:  “There is a simple test for determining whether something is a resource or just garbage. If someone will pay you for the item, it’s a resource. But if you have to pay someone to take the item away, then it’s garbage.”

We are not going to solve the enormity of our waste problem by imploring people to rinse out their plastic mustard containers and carefully place them in a special bin. The problem needs to be solved upstream. Radical changes to packaging, incineration and reuse of the ash, building a dedicated monorail and shipping it to the desert to create a giant pyramid future historians can marvel at… these are the ideas we need to focus our energy on.

It feels as if much of the United States is stuck in a conventional thinking mode. The old guard is longing for a time when we clearly dominated the world without really trying. Uber is a great example. My city just recently fought a protracted battle with the transportation upstart. The old guard was trying desperately to protect the cab companies and the way things have always worked. I recently took a trip and used both Uber and a cab company. Leaving for the airport at 4am, I checked the Uber app and there was a driver a few blocks away. It took him a few minutes to get to my house. His car was new, clean, and he was a pretty nice guy. $9 for my trip, taken care of by my credit card already on file. The return trip I took a cab from the airport. The cab was a rattling death trap that smelled of stale cigarette smoke and was driven by someone who grunted monosyllabic answers. Nearly $30 for that lovely experience. Why would anyone spend energy to defend that sort of old school business?

Politics, foreign policy, artificially created “shovel ready projects”, bringing back industrial manufacturing, the Eagles and Rolling Stones reunion tours, Hollywood remakes of movie classics like Vacation and Point Break – why? Move on. The world has changed. It’s time to think forward rather than wistfully dreaming of the days of the Sony Walkman and killer mix tapes. As Homer Simpson famously said, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way”. I think he meant the line to the Krispy Kreme, but donuts or global innovation… it’s all the same.

We’ve had a pretty solid run. We can feel good about it. CNN can continue to crank out mtvspecials documenting each decade. But we need to come to grips with the fact that it’s over. The world is changing at a remarkable pace. We need to make sure we’re solving the right problems or we’ll look up and wonder why our standard of living plummeted. My point? I’m not sure. I think I’m just frustrated because my Zune music player finally died and the new music landscape is just so… confusing. Sigh, why can’t we just bring back the original MTV?