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Emotional Work Preparedness

Day 192 and Cherries in Air Conditioning

I found myself eating an entire pound of chilled organic bing cherries in bed while binging episodes of Downton Abbey this week. Watching the British aristocracy cope with modernity poorly seemed like an excellent balm for the climate anxiety that has been gripping me during the consecutive heatwaves inflaming the American West.

I’m a doomer and a prepper but recently I’ve felt completely defeated by the looming impacts of climate change. And I’ve been manifesting it is a kind of orgiastic panic of consumption. We had a windfall this year and it has soothes some of the panic I’ve had about having the resources to survive. Maybe it will be miserable but we might have enough wealth to avoid dying.

But I’ve been spending more on petty purchases of comfort. I’ve bought 2lbs of organic cherries, the large carton of organic blueberries, the $15 bags of dark roast coffee for espresso, and the $10 bar of 95% dark chocolate without a second thought. We’ve had sashimi for lunch and on Friday I ordered a lobster roll. We live thousands of miles away from the ocean in Colorado. We don’t grow or fish any of those crops here.

The excuse I’ve been using is that I’m concerned (nay convinced) none of these things will survive the next 25 years except as extreme luxury goods. If I can see the changes coming should I not enjoy the access I have to food that will no longer be available in my fifties? If I can see the end coming why conserve? I’m not Exxon or BP or some giant mining extraction concern in China. My forgoing small luxuries as an individual will do nothing to stop the catastrophe and I would like fond memories of the taste of a cool tart cherry in my twilight years. Burn me at the stake for it I guess.

Categories
Preparedness Startups

Day 189 and Cascades

One of the reasons we named the fund we invest out of Chaotic Capital is because I’m obsessed with cascade failures. In complex systems one small change can ripple out in unexpected ways. As players scramble to accommodate these shifts, opportunities for power realignments emerge. This is particularly exciting in systems that are man made as we can only create so much complexity in mechanical systems (unlike biological ones). Most startups are built on technology or engineering that are simple complex systems.

The absolute best description of the risks of a cascade comes from the science fiction television program The Expanse and a botanist named Prax. He is describing a failure in the hydroponics system (which both feeds the people and produces oxygen) on a space station on the moon Ganymede.

Because it’s simple it’s prone to cascades. And because it’s complex you can’t predict what is going to breakdown next or how.

While I’m a doomer and a prepper so it was bound to happen, it was this insight from Prax got me into hydroponics. Cascades and chaos and lettuce fuck yes!

But jokes aside, we’ve got a number of complex systems under strain right now. Supply chains, the financial system, our power grids coping with climate change, and even unemployment benefits are all examples of simple complex systems that are experiencing cascade failures.

I’m not in the mindset to lay a Grand Unified Theory of Simple Complex Systems tonight, because I did experienced one today. Colorado just set another heat record today and my air conditioner crapped out. As I set about closing blinds and checking electrical breakers I worried about how my own survival and comfort depends on cascades not occurring.

What if it had been electrical and my refrigerator went out and not just the air conditioner. Then my $5000 a dose immunosuppressant would go bad. If I can’t have that my spine will swell. Then I’ll be in too much pain to walk. Sure this isn’t a simple complex system exactly but I think it beneficial to go up and down the systems that keep our lives intact. If one system goes down do you survive?

This used to be a topic which we all shied away from. Then the pandemic happened and preppers like myself didn’t look quite so whacky. We told stories about the systems thinking that went into basic preparedness. We got a Nellie Bowles Styles piece. It was a lot of fun. But it belies the seriousness with which the topic of preparedness should be approached.

You probably aren’t prepared for some of the cascades that come as the works gets more chaotic. And no we cannot predict it. Shit is way too complex. It’s fucking chaotic as hell. So get some bottled water. I’ve made it easier. Here is what I keep in my go bags. Do it before the next cascade hits. You won’t regret it. I think Prax would agree.

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Preparedness

Day 169 and Heatwave

I’m pacing back and forth inside my apartment. I need to get in my steps for the day and it’s simply too hot to go outside. A record (isn’t it always) heatwave has been scorching the American West for the past week. It’s hot. It’s dry. It is miserable.

Earlier in the week I tried getting up at 5am to beat the heat. But even first thing in the morning it was still over 80 degrees making it downright unpleasant to go for my usuals hour long wander. So I haven’t been outside for several days except to sprint into my Subaru and then into an air conditioned doctor’s office. Frankly it’s driving me insane. My body hates it. My mind hates it.

I’m a cold weather person by temperament and culture. I blame it on my Swedish ancestors and growing up in a mountain town in Colorado where I don’t think we even had air conditioning when I was a kid. Now twenty five years later I haven’t turned off the air conditioner in weeks.

The National Weather Service says temperatures are 10-20 degrees above average because of a heat dome. And also because climate change. I honestly think this jet stream fuckery sucks. I don’t understand how we are supposed to live like this.

A backpack containing a first aid kit and other disaster preparedness supplies.

I am grateful we haven’t yet started fire season. Though I know it is coming. All this time indoors should have me going through disaster supplies. And indeed we did redo our medic kit and trauma supplies this week. We even made our list public if you have been considering doing some preparedness of your own. But disasters have a way of blunting your capacity to do anything. So I’ve been pacing inside, my mind racing but accomplishing very little. Fuck this heatwave.

Categories
Chronicle Media Preparedness

Day 82 and Tragedy

Around 3:30pm MTN yesterday I heard sirens. I didn’t think much of it at first as I’m used to the noises of Manhattan even six months into relocating back to my hometown of Boulder. Then I got a text from a friend in Texas “you aren’t at the grocery store are?”

I asked what store. “Where?” And I scrambled onto Twitter. The Boulder Police Department had posted that they were responding to an active shooter situation at the King Soopers on Table Mesa. I told my friend no I was at home but the grocery store was just 2-3 miles down the road. We had picked up takeout from the shopping center just yesterday from a favorite pub Southern Sun. It’s a staple of the community. I had dinner at its sister restaurant Mountain Sun after I ditched prom in high school. One of the servers snuck us a beer in our hideous outfits even though it was clear we were in high school. The detail feels important for some reason. I don’t know why.

I quickly found a livestream and police scanners to monitor. I opened the door to our porch and heard the unmistakable sound of helicopters. It was the “whack whack whack” of the blades that made me realize it was serious. News choppers wouldn’t be on scene so fast. But medical response scrambles fast. Especially in Colorado where search and rescue leans on helicopters for rough terrain.

My husband Alex was on a call I couldn’t interrupt but I desperately wanted to get his attention. Partially, and I’m sure this will upset a few people, because I wanted to make sure he retrieved and loaded his daily carry. A small part of me considered whether we should break out body armor and get further into our interior rooms. The police had asked folks to avoid the area and stay home.

I closed the curtains so I wasn’t likely to catch the attention of anyone on Pearl Street below. I wanted to be away from windows and with barriers between me and the street. We’d actually given thought to this kind of emergency which is why we own guns and armor. We don’t advertise it but the threat of unrest and violence is something we plan for in our preparedness efforts. Especially in the wake of the January 6th insurrection it’s felt wise to be armed.

America fixates on gun violence. But not the kind that happens in areas with crime or drug violence. We like a media circus around mass shootings. Especially if it involves children. You see this isn’t my first mass shooting. I lived in Boulder during Columbine. I still remember the lockdown at school as we got word. Kids whispering who they knew. Who went there. I’ve seen this before. I’ve had proximity before. I don’t even want to get into it here as it makes my family sound a little cursed when I recount the close calls. But maybe it’s normal and other Americans have had similar close calls.

I was shaken all night as the news got reported. I checked in with my family. The only person who wasn’t worried was my mom. She knew we didn’t go grocery shopping on the South Side of town. She hadn’t considered that we would do pick up at the Mountain Sun. I spent an hour pulling tarot cards with a friend to keep my mind off of social media. We watched the press conference. We put our phones outside of the bedroom so we couldn’t doomscroll.

I had already become incensed by a viral tweet from Meena Harris the sister of Vice President Harris discussing the urgent need for gun control. Urgent my ass I thought. Why can’t any community have its tragedy and be graced to account for its grief in peace? Why do we need to discuss policy and regulations when I don’t even know the names of who was murdered yet? Fuck off Meena Harris these are my neighbors.

Without my phone and thanks to the wonders of Ativan I slept well. I woke up to a new press conference. A phone full of national news alerts. Great, I thought, the New York Times is going to fixate on this isn’t it. I had texts from all over the world. People I play games with online had heard the news. People wanted to know how I was. I wasn’t great.

We got names in the morning. I recognized one name but I wasn’t sure if it was the aunt of a schoolmate or just had a similar name. I went on Facebook. It was a different woman. Media frenzy was at a peek as we learned 10 people were dead. Somehow this was worse than the originally reported 6. It felt more mass. I got a new round of texts from folks. As if it wasn’t clear how bad it was last night.

I knew there would be attention and media. A mass shooting in a wealthy white liberal town with a history of trying to pass municipal ordinances against assault weapons is zeitgeist bait. Of course the narrative isn’t quite true. I wondered if the media knew that Table Mesa was in the shitty side of town. That a town like Boulder even has a shitty side. Alex thought the shooting was further away than it was because when we were house hunting I said I wouldn’t consider living on the south or east sides of town. Those parts of town had been othered by me and I didn’t even realize it. Because I prioritized us living in the “good” parts of town. I wanted to live where my childhood self had dreamed I would live a kid. Whether it was conscious or not I wanted to live in the wealthiest, whitest and safest part of town. I didn’t feel guilty about it at the time. It seemed prudent and I had always wanted to live on Pearl Street. As a teenager I worked on the local tv station’s documentary about its history. My mother saved the poster for the 25th anniversary which now hangs on my wall. That was in 2002. A lot of time has passed.

Of course the coverage is sensational. I should have known it would be. The media tends to prioritize wealthy liberal white lives. Boulder is a wealthy liberal white place for better or worse. Add in the A-15 for the shock value (for some reason they really freak out folks who don’t own guns) and the fact that it was in a grocery store and we’ve got the ideal blend of fear and banality. Grocery stores have been the safe place of the pandemic. A shooting at a grocery store felt particularly violent. So he’s is all anyone was going to talk about today.

Despite it not being something that was happening to any of them. It was however happening to me and Alex. We live here. This is our town. This tragedy belonged to Boulder and everyone who calls it home. I felt like we deserved to grieve in peace. To have our anger.

But I was going to have to live through everyone I knew demanding gun control on social media. Talking heads butting in. Because American media treats these acts of senseless violence as if it’s a shared moment to discuss gun policy. But it’s not. It’s a time for the people affected to have their own feelings without the glare of political opportunism. I knew this in a hazy sense before but I know it in a visceral way now. This shooting isn’t your opportunity. It’s our tragedy. I turned off my phone and slept all afternoon after finishing my workload. I felt too sad to be conscious. And everything hurt.

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Chronicle Preparedness

Day 79 and Hydroponics

Preparedness is a hobby in our household. We have go bags for fire season and a solar powered portable generator for bug outs and power outages. We think ahead on common emergencies and prepare. 

Because we find this to be a fun time, we decided to explore hydroponics to grow herbs, vegetables and fruits inside during the winter. It’s more a pandemic hobby than a preparedness hobby but why not get double the enjoyment? Our first step in learning about hydroponics was to purchase a table top AeroGarden for herbs. Nothing like a little fresh cilantro to dress up emergency rice and beans. But really it’s about having fresh basil to put on a salad or thyme for a roasting chicken or mint for strawberries. We sprouted 6 different herbs and watched them go from seedling to full grown plant within six weeks. From there we had more trouble keeping the dill trimmed and the mint from choking out its neighbors. This experiment went so well we wanted to try out something bigger. 

For Christmas we decided it was time to go big. A friend of ours recommended a type of hydroponic system called a LettuceGrow. It’s a farm stand tower with circular growth rings that takes up just 2 feet by 2 feet and looks like something you’d see on a spaceship. 

We had been a bit worried it would be too hard to grow a full 18 plant hydroponics system. But it was easy to make picks and we felt like we didn’t have enough space. We had decided to grow two types of kale, red & green leaf lettuce, spinach, bok choi, cilantro, strawberries, green beans, and chives. We’ve got jalapeño, peppers & tomatoes planned for summer. 

It was easy to set up the hydroponic stand (it’s just a water pump and a timer for the lights) and even easier to start with already sprouted seedlings from LettuceGrow. We placed it next to an end table where a small bookshelf used to be. It took up about the space you’d expect a large fern to require. It’s more decors than elaborate equipment in feel. Though it takes a few week to reach its full potential. When we seeded then it didn’t look like much.  Definitely more alien ship than lush vegetation. 

But within three weeks the seedlings grew with 14 hours a day of red light. It was a source of much enjoyment each day to check on the seedlings sprouting each day. Highly recommend for long bouts indoors. And the growth after just 21 days is almost ready to eat.  Without using much electricity. We calculated it out to an additional 14 cents on our bill. 

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Chronicle Internet Culture Preparedness

Day 73 and Trutherism

A significant snowstorm has hit the front range of Colorado. In downtown Boulder it looks like we have about two feet of very dense wet snow accumulated at 4pm Mountain Time.

It however came about 36 hours later than predicted. And this has caused significant consternation. A good chunk of social media in Colorado yesterday turned into “snow truthers” dunking on meteorological work being a scam. Some folks made weed jokes. The National Weather Service even took time to scold the skeptics.

Even a slight miscalculation in timing seemed to break trust as it looked like the hype wouldn’t match the reality for a day. This despite the storm arriving with exactly the quantity predicted and blizzard conditions that closed the major freeways including I-25 and I-70.

I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the skepticism of meteorology and the current distaste for the epidemiology profession. The tone was distinctly similar to culture warrior angst about how scientists continue to get forecasting wrong. And yes getting it wrong is to the detriment of freedom and business. Except that in both this storms case and with Covid19 it’s been directionally correct. The impacts of policy has been the issue but not the direction of the data.

I’m not the first to worry about people bloc distrust of institutions and their information. I engage in plenty of skepticism on a range of issues from medicine to monetary policy. But no longer trusting basic information on timing, duration and impact no matter what the field because “the powers that be” are always inherently untrustworthy is getting to be exhausting. This is going to cost us lives as we begin to distrust even the banal and easily verifiable.

Public policy isn’t the same thing as public forecasting and we’ve lost sight of that. We should always be updating models and assessing impact. It just seems like a shame that we’ve decided any error in predictive work now negates the entire body of work.

The storm came in Colorado. It was a little late. Covid was a global epidemic. I guess the only upside is that it’s a little harder to dismiss two feet of snow. Truthers eventually got snowed in just like the rest of us. We’ve already seen the consequences of not having the evidence right in your face with covid. Whole portions of the population have split out their realities. The chaos of complete institutional distrust will come to be a defining feature of the next decade. I don’t have a clue how we get it back.

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Chronicle Preparedness

Day 70 and The Joy of Preparing

I’ve found a lot of satisfaction in the feeling of being prepared. And I don’t just mean for the apocalypse. Simple preparation for storms are enjoyable for me. I keep an eye on weather so I don’t find myself at the grocery store among panicked last minute shoppers. I love the run up last minute puttering of battening down the hatches before a snowstorm. I use it as an excuse to do errands or chores I would otherwise find a way to put off.

My usual storm routine is to do all the laundry (including sheets and towels), vacuum, run the dishwasher and take a long shower. This routine comes in quite handy if you lose power as having clean underwear and plenty of dishes is something you will appreciate if you are left without electricity or water.

Storms are a terrific way to force the issue of lingering “to do” lists like go to the hardware for more batteries or run by the pharmacy for more Advil. I personally hate running errands until a hurricane or snowstorm is bearing down on me and then I gleefully tick off chores that have been languish for weeks if not months.

Much of these routines are really about self soothing. The illusion of control calms the mind. I know I have little control about much in life (the pandemic really brought home that point) but by engaging our will we can exert a little pressure on the on the parameters of our world. If we put the intention into our work to prepare, then a few days without power sounds manageable our mind should it come to pass. We’ve already told ourselves this uncomfortable or even dangerous situation is one that we are capable of enduring.

It’s not that I think mind over matter is a plan (it’s not you need a plan for emergencies) it’s that building our capacity for experiencing stress makes actual stress much more manageable. Busting out the generator and the camp stove is fun! I’ve said this so many times to myself I genuinely believe it. A snowstorm is predicted to drop up to two feet in Colorado over the weekend. Lots of breathless coverage is in the local papers and on the weather channels that it could be historic. I’m secretly hoping we lose power for just a little bit. Long enough for me to play with some of my gear.

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Chronicle Preparedness

Day 49 and Waste

I’ve been using WordPress as a content management system for fifteen years or so. It’s had a penchant for losing drafts all of that time. Journalists complain about it constantly. You tend to retain that information in your lizard brain after losing a few pieces and get in the habit of saving things into other systems when it starts to get janky. Call it muscle memory.

However, as I learned tonight, if you don’t have a longtime blogging habit you don’t have this habit. I spent the last forty five minutes writing about my memories of Hurricane Sandy and how the crisis in Texas is bringing back memories of the storm that brought about my preparedness interest.

Sadly an expired SSL cert meant I couldn’t publish the draft. I asked Alex to help fix it as he’s got a knack for fixing glitches quickly. I warned him that the post was only saved locally and he should copy it to the phone clipboard and paste a backup into Gmail. He apparently has never lost a draft into the hungry maw of WordPress so “saved locally” was good enough.

After deleting and reinstalling the certificate well I bet you can guess what happened. The writing is lost to the ages. Alex didn’t have the muscle memory to save it to other program. But like hell am I losing my streak of writing every day. So here I am writing about the the annoyance of spending time crafting something only to have it disappear into the ether. A new post will be sent into the world.

I’m somewhat comforted knowing that the post didn’t seem very good to me. Which probably means it was excellent. But alas some eldritch horror has spirited it away into the black hole where lost socks and blogposts live.

I also kid you not I got a text warning me a negative energy had wandered into my room and I should open the door. I guess the world knew I was pissed I lost my post. So I’m going to go burn some sage. Because I live in Boulder and honestly I don’t want the bad juju of anger on me before I sleep. the key to happiness is never going to bed angry. Or so I hear.

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Chronicle Finance Internet Culture Preparedness

Day 28 and Limbic Memory

Today I want to talk about how this past year has set in motion the next hundred years of human imagination. Yes, I think it’s that important.

Mental elasticity is an incredible thing. We humans learn quickly and have a seemingly endless capacity to adapt to impossible things once we’ve wrapped our minds around it. Sadly though, forgetting doesn’t come as naturally to us as learning. Once we’ve seen the impossible happen, we never forget. Instead of storing miracles and crisis in the front of our minds like new knowledge, to be reinterpreted as new and possibly ephemeral, it goes right to our limbic back brain.

The limbic system is set in the deep structure of the brain where it regulates autonomic or endocrine function in response to emotional stimuli. It’s part of our survival response encoding. Which is why trauma is so crucial to evolutionary pressure. Those that survived, generally did because they took an impossible situation seriously. It becomes a part of our reactive unconscious survival instinct. And boy is this going to have consequences for American millennials.

The last year has had its share of impossible things occur. And we’ve gone about our business adapting to things that couldn’t possibly happen before. Early doomers were dismissed on the pandemic, political Cassandras ignored until an insurrection occurred, and now a new kind of financial mania which Stalwart Joe at Bloomberg calls an “upcrash”. He explains the impossible inversion using 1987’s Black Monday 22% drop.

Once people became aware that such a severe crash in so short a time was even possible, the likelihood that it could happen again was never dismissed. The consequences aren’t as big, but in a sense, what we’ve seen in GameStop could be thought of as a Reverse 1987. Upcrash. A gain so fast and rapid, that it might previously have been thought to be impossible.

Why do I include a seemingly jokey memetic internet troll in a list of traumas? Because a positive memory is just as jarring to our limbic memory as a bad thing. We overweight good experiences just as heavily as bad. Once the impossible becomes real our bodies retain the memory.

We’ve now got sense memory for global pandemics, political instability and positive market manias in America. Things we haven’t had for three generations (or more in the case of political instability). And the consequences, most of which remain unknowable, for these visceral impossibilities won’t leave our bodies till we are dead. We are stuck with the paranoia and exuberance of this last year till our grandchildren are in charge.

So we’ve just tossed several intense traumatic evolutionary events onto American millennials that not a single institution can do shit about. And I’ve honestly never been more excited for what our chaotic future might bring.

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Chronicle Preparedness

Day 23 and Learning Anxiety

It all started with basil. Buying those plastic clamshells filled with herbs felt like insult on every grocery bill. You pay a couple dollars for wilting produce to complete some elaborate recipe you got from the New York Times (because Bon Appetit would never do you wrong that way) and are subsequently bathed in a broth of guilt and regret over your ambitions and poor budgeting.

Now a normal person would probably start an herb garden and enjoy its seasonal bounty. No winter herbs for you but plenty of summertime basil. But I am a yuppie. A full David Brook’s hippie turned bohemian consumption machine.

So on Black Friday I bought an Aerogarden. It’s a good Boulder company so that felt nice. Until I learned that it’s owned by Scott Corporation otherwise known as the purveyors of Miracle-Gro. But because I’m a yuppie I can let that one go even if I’ll cry indignation in public. I want my easy year round herbs.

So fast forward a few months and this is the best consumer product I’ve purchased all year. Up there with the $14 stovetop espresso maker. So I’ve got stars in my eyes about how in our townhouse we can do more than herbs. We can grow tomatoes! We could get two Aerogarden and grow lettuce too. Imagine if we could stack them. And so my husband and I start a familiar cycle of manifestation wherein he and I churn our cycles on making something we want a reality. He handles the logistics. I handle the the desires outcome. Together we have both decent ideas and follow through. The trouble is when we try to switch rolls.

Oh honey there are Aerogarden subreddits. Check it out before you decide what we should do.”

That sounds innocent enough. I click in on the link. Cue instant panic. Post after post after post about optimizations. “I bought a pollinator” and “I pulled out seeds to improve lower light filtration” and honestly I can’t even type out anymore it’s giving me hives.

Why? I don’t learn this way. But my husband does. My husband learns by seeing. A bunch of questions, and a lot of show and tell, gives him the confidence to dive into a project. He is the master of the Subreddit. A king of the DIY Youtube tutorial. I on the other hand can only learn by doing. I take one step. I don’t milk myself. I gain confidence and then I take another step. I have done a lot in my life with this “one foot in front of the other” method. And I know it works for me. Because if I start seeing too many complex steps and tools or gadgets I immediately undercut myself. I assume it’s too complex for me. A hobbies forum assumes a degree of detail and devotion I believe I can’t ever muster. I’m too much of a dabbler for that.

So I panicked. I kept reading the threads and slowly convincing myself I could never handle this hydroponics shit. Look at how complex all these set ups were. Look at all these questions I never thought to ask before I just started doing it. This panic surfaced despite the fact I was reading posts by people about the identical device I have. Which all evidence suggests I have been using correctly for months without even once looking at a subreddit or forum for hacks.

A hydroponic garden made by Aerogarden with six different herbs growing

I very nearly talked myself out of getting an additional Aerogarden at all by attempting to learn the way my husband does.

And he didn’t mean to spook me. He got excited on the forums and wanted to share it with me. I thankfully caught myself in the emotion before I let it run away from me too much. But it was a valuable lesson in not judging yourself for not having the same style. My method of learning is more any better or worse than any other. It just happens to be the one that keeps me excited to keep going. And that’s half the battle with learning something new. If you get bummed out the fire dims and you won’t continue learning. And that’s really where you fail.