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Can I be proud of this?

20 October 2019 08:45PM introspection

Genuine, non-rhetorical question here: how do you measure your own success? Or - what makes you confident that you are a worthwhile person? — Grace, 2019

This is a great question.

For me, I think it's being able to step back from a thing I made or did and think, "Yeah, that was cool." Almost a pride-in-your-work, job-well-done, I-did-my-best vibe.

That sort of applies at any scale - I have felt proud of everything from spending a year writing a thesis to dropping an especially awful pun.

So what makes something that I do or make something that I can be proud of? I mean, a lot of it is pretty dependent on context. That which makes a good thesis does not make a good pun*.

But while the external criteria are going to be different for everything, the things that make me proud of it are sort of the same every time. They're things like:

To take a step back, I think you can approximate this as "did I act in line with my values?" That is, the things I like and think are useful and important.

That necessitates a degree of reflection, both to have an idea of what your values are in the first place, and to determine if something you've done or made was in line with them. It can help to articulate them to yourself, but the closer it comes to being a gut feeling, probably the closer it is to being true. It's very hard to talk yourself into or out of feeling proud of something you've done, and that's one of the strengths of this.

It's worth noting that this is an entirely self-referenced judgement. You're not looking at how others percieve you, comparing yourself to them, or against some arbitrary external criteria. That stuff might form a part of what you're measuring - but the yardstick you're measuring it against is yours and yours alone.

I think that assuming the negative is a pretty good test case here. If you do something and you're actively not proud of it, or regret it - you act against your values - that probably wasn't a thing you should've done. If you're doing something and you just feel the absence of pride, that's probably a sign that you need to change what you're doing**. And if you're not doing anything at all, you're pretty unlikely to feel anything at all. And to me, at least, that looks like a pretty set of measurements of 'success'.

It's shifting the value off the way you are (or are seen) and on to the way you act. I think that's powerful because while you can't always control the way you look or the way you're percieved, you can (often) control the way you act. It doesn't try to force you to change yourself, but it can help you to do the things that you want to do or think are important - if you want it to.

I don't think this is the only valid way to measure your self worth, but it's the one that I find myself doing, and I think it has its advantages. As to how you start to cultivate it, I'm not sure I can offer much - I feel like I do this pretty instinctively (or at least automatically) at this point, but perhaps taking time to reflect on what you value and how you feel about the things you do is a good place to start. I'm biased, but I think writing a journal (or perhaps some kind of "blog") is a great way to do this. ;)

That's perhaps more in-depth an answer than you really needed, but as I said - it's a good question.

* Although that's perhaps debatable.

* This is also a pretty neat summary of why I haven't been feeling great about my job for the last few months.*

Follow The Money

23 May 2019 06:06PM climate-election

If you can make it rational, easy and normal for people to do something for the planet, they'll do it. So let's put that into practice!

Our case study for today? Banking.

Rational

I think it's pretty fascinating to look at consumer banking technology in different parts of the world. It's almost like looking into alternate histories, in an aspect of our lives that mostly tends to fade into the background and get taken for granted.

Like... if you lived in the US, you'd apparently either still be slinging cheques (checks?) around, or be sending money in some kind of publically accessible feed.

But I guess we can apply the same kind of thinking to the actual past as well. The criteria I used to pick my first bank were something like:

I can't remember the last time visited a branch, and the idea that I once chose a service provider based on how many metal boxes they have scattered across the landscape seems insane. But we tend to stick with banks, even when our criteria change, because there's this perception that switching is much harder than it really is - but more on that in a second.

By comparison, here's what I'd look for today:

This is a pretty huge shift. We've gone from physical infrastructure and having the cash to sign on with credit card providers, to an almost entirely digital landscape. These are services that much smaller players can provide just as well as larger ones - often better. In terms of "can I get shit done," larger banks used to have a clear advantage. Now, that's pretty much gone.

But it's that last one that really gets me, because tying someone's payment details to their phone number or email address suddenly opens up a world of possibility.

Easy

One of the neat things about owning a domain name (and you'll have to excuse me as I dive from banking minutiae to email minutiae) is that you can separate your contact details from your service provider. If your primary online identity is firstname.lastname@gmail.com, then you're pretty much tied to Gmail forever. If it's firstname@lastname.com, you've suddenly got a whole range of options. You can swap out the back-end service provider without having to update your contact details.

(I guess the less geeky version of this, and perhaps the comparison I should have picked to start with, is being able to take your mobile number with you when you change providers)

And that's what we're just seeing the beginnings of in banking. If your payment details are tied to something you control, like a phone number, and not something your bank controls like an account number, it suddenly gets much easier to change the underlying service provider. You can change banks like you'd change mobile providers, and your money can still reach you.

On top of that, the payment platform it's built on top of makes it way easier to run accounts with multiple banks in parallel.

Normal

So we're reaching a point, thanks to technology, where:

  1. Smaller players can actually give you the service you need - maybe even better, and;
  2. The friction of switching is starting to drop, which means;
  3. Changing banks is probably actually viable for a lot more people.

Which is pretty neat! Because it turns out banks are one of the best places to get money to fund fossil fuel projects. If you're reading this, there's a good chance that you don't want your money to be a part of that - and it's never been easier to switch.

Now, there's two ways of framing this. We could see it as a largely symbolic (depending on your finances) attempt to get yourself out of some awful guilt. Or, we could see it as a prudent strategy to get yourself out of an awful investment.

Not just because these investments are bad for the planet (and that's increasingly going to be a financial step rather than a moral one) but because they're expensive and unreliable and risky, where renewables are cheap and reliable and safe. We're not going to have to wait long before supporting fossil fuels is totally untenable anyway - why not avoid the crash?

The best thing you can do to sell that change is to do it. And then, if it does come up, you can say with confidence that you've done it yourself. That it took you an afternoon, and that it's no big deal. Act like it's the most sensible, obviousl thing in the world, because it is. Make it normal.

I know all of this because I actually did it myself a couple of months ago, and it didn't only take an afternoon, and it wasn't a big deal, and I've been waiting for the chance to write about it ever since.

In the desolate, hand-wringing wasteland of election shock, this is something you can actually do, a conversation you can actually have, and an change you can actually convince someone to make.

Because it's rational. It's easy. And all the cool kids are doing it.

Have I convinced you yet?

Weaponised Self-Interest

22 May 2019 08:29PM climate-electionscicomm

We might not agree on the problem - but we maybe we can agree on the solution.

It's tempting to froth about the majority of voters this election by claiming that they're stupid or irrational for ignoring the climate and voting based on, for example, tax policies instead.

The truth is that they're perfectly rational and intelligent humans. They've very rationally voted on the things that matter to them - their own well-being, and the opinions of people close to them.

They can know that climate change is real, understand what the global effects are, and still make the perfectly rational decision that their, and their children, and their community's immediate wellbeing is more important, because it is. Humans are hard-wired to care about this sort of stuff, because deep down we're just upright monkeys. We need food and shelter, and we need our tribe to accept us, and caring about those is the most rational thing in the world.

Fast Cars And Free Power

So shouting that the planet is dying is not going to work. Everyone that was going to be convinced by that message has been. Shouting it louder isn't going to help. It's time for a different approach.

We need to change the way we talk about climate change - and more importantly, about climate solutions, and the way we do that is by framing the conversation differently.

There's a couple of ways we might approach this. Some of them have even been tested. In particular, we know that it's more effective to talk about climate change in terms of what we can save, not what we're losing, and in terms of local and familiar things rather than abstract and distant things.

We could talk about it in economic terms - it's going to be cheaper to do mitigation now than it will be to build flood barriers in ten years. That it's already costing us, in water trucking and desalination and fish kills and crop failures.

But even here we're still talking about the problem. What if we - hear me out - we started talking up the solutions instead? Becuase here's the thing - the transition to a clean economy isn't just necessary, it's really exciting.. The problems are bad, yes - but the solutions are very, very good. The solutions are independence from unreliable grids, and adding value to your house. They're fast cars you can charge at home, and power that's too cheap to even think about. They're cargo ships with carbon-fiber sails, and electric blimps dotting the sky. And they're the chance to get filthy Elon Musk-level rich by investing in those solutions. The renewable future is awesome, fossil fuels are a dying industry, and anyone who says otherwise is a wowser.

Yes, writing that felt bit gross, but that's the point - these messages aren't for us. They're for the people we've failed to convince. This is hard! It means you have to put yourself in your audience's head, and that's a skill that takes time and practise to master.

The goal here is that in three years' time it is normal and socially acceptable to say "I don't give a shit about the climate, but don't you dare touch my electricity and transport prices or do anything to negatively impact my investment portfolio"

This is how you change behaviour. Not by changing people's values, but by showing how what you want them to do aligns with what they want anyway. You have to make it rational, and then they'll do it.

Elections Are A Trailing Indicator

For the person up the back who's had their hand up for the last paragraph to say that individual actions aren't going to cut it, I see you. Don't worry, we're getting to that. We've got a couple of tricks up our sleeve.

First, we'll be creating more demand for renewable energy, and reducing the market for non-renewables. If we shift demand, shift sales, and start to shift investment, we're starting to speak a language that the big players - governments, corporations, and so on, understand - at least more than they do platitudes about the planet. One of the reasons climate change has gotten this far is that there's no financial penalty for polluting, but as clean energy gets cheaper and supply and demand starts to shift, that will start to change.

They've made this fight about jobs and money, and that will be their undoing, because ultimately this is where the jobs and the money are. Because pretty soon nobody will be buying from or working in coal mines.

Second, in the long run, this is how we change values. We like to think that we make choices based on what we believe, but in reality it's the other way round - we shape our values based on the actions we take. Make it cheap and easy to do, make it obvious that it's what everyone is doing, and you can change people's behaviour. Change people's behaviour, and cognitive dissonance will do the rest

Show people a 5c refund, and they'll become passionate recyclers. Show them free power, and they'll become passionate advocates for renewable energy.

And that's how we change the government next time - whether that comes through changing policy or changing party is irrelevant. We shift the conversation, we shift the behaviour, we shift the market, we shift the values, and then, only then, once voters are clamouring for renewable incentives the same way they clamour for negative gearing, do we get to change the policy. Democracies are reactive, not proactive - they give people what they want, not what they don't. So if you want to change climate policy, you have to make them want it.

This climate election, the people didn't want it. But we can make sure that next time, they do.

Nothing that I've written here is new. It's also not guaranteed to work. But if, like me, you're looking for something to do that isn't just despair and shouting into the void, maybe it's worth a shot.

The world's most cautious optimism

20 May 2019 04:00PM lifeclimate-election

I'm increasingly glad didn't rage tweet about this weekend's election result.

I slammed some doors and walked a block or two to grab some of my favourite beer instead, and I'm glad that I did, because having taken some time to process things I'm not actually sure the things I would've tweeted would have been warranted.

the damage doesn't look as bad from out here...

The truth is that last night was a shock, but it wasn't from the end of the world. At least, not yet.

As humans we have this innate desire to tell stories about what happened, to try and explain phenomena larger than we can possibly comprehend. If that helps you, go for it, but I'm not sure that speculation is particularly useful right now - at least not for me. Everyone who voted on Saturday did so for their own reasons. Thanks to the wonders of the secret ballot, we can never know what those are.

Here is what we do know. As a nation, we are not morons. We do not deserve every inch of sea level rise and every degree of warming, or to be alternately boiled alive and flooded to death in our negatively geared homes.

(All very real thoughts, which I definitely thought on my walk to the shops, and which I have definitely seen articulated on Twitter since.)

We are selfish, and short-sighted, and overly concerned with what others think of us, but that doesn't make us bad people - it just makes us people.

Getting involved in this election was all about feeling like I could do something. Six months ago, I sat in a room and helped write what I thought our goals should for the Swan campaign on post-it notes. Two themes showed up pretty quickly - we wanted to get enough senate votes to return our senator, and we wanted the current member for Swan to have "a really uncomfortable evening."

Jordon is almost certainly back, and Steve Irons has scraped re-election with a 4% hit to his primary vote.

All things considered I'd say we actually did pretty well.

But I still need to feel like I'm doing something, and if you're reading this I suspect you might too.

The reality is that not much has changed. Our goalposts are exactly where they were before. We have a biosphere to maintain and a government that's not interested in doing so. We have put the people whose job it is to fight for this kind of stuff back where they need to be, and they are sure as shit going to keep doing it. But electing a government is just a tiny part of our job.

So I'm going to be doing some writing, because that's going to help me. And I am going to write about some things that you can do to feel like you're doing something too. I hope you can join me!

Artefacts of light

07 April 2019 01:49PM lifeintrospection

For Christmas last year, Grace got me this gorgeous beast:

a nikon nikkormat ft2

Yeah, that's right. I shoot on film now.

In all seriousness though: I've gone from having one phone camera about 18 months ago to having three cameras now - two of which are actually quite nice. And I think it's fascinating the way I think about them and use them differently.

My phone camera is all about remembering. It's always with me, it's small and quick to use. The photos it takes are spontaneous, and the picture itself is often less important than the memory it jogs.

My "proper" digital camera is for sharing. It's more powerful and more flexible and more importantly, produces photos that someone else might want to look at. It's a purposeful storytelling tool, whether that's illustrating a blog post or standing on its own.

This new camera - old camera? - is a different beast entirely. It's got a limited roll and no playback, so every shot is composed. The settings are simple, but they're all manual, so every shot is meditative and mindful. The other cameras are about the result, but this is about the process. It's about enjoying every step of making a thing. This camera is fun.

But I there's something else I want to dig into there as well, something that's a bit deeper than just "it's fun". And to figure out what that is, you have to look at why you'd take pictures on film at all.

When I got them back from the developer, I was blown away by how right these photos looked. Maybe some of that is because I'm used to noisy smartphone pics. But these are crisp and dreamy and awash with style without any kind of filter. The colours are true, in the absence of white balance, but somehow also reflect how the thing felt. They're not photons on pixels, they're so clearly beams etched on film. They are artefacts of light, and they are beautiful, and they are real, and that is worth something.

Because the photos are real. There is no abstraction. There is no digitisation, noise reduction, white balancing or lens correction. There's no fixing the exposure or tweaking the curves. This is nothing more or less than physics slamming into chemistry at 300 000 kilometres a second.

And the camera is real too.

With a frankly astonishing combination of shaped glass and layered chemicals and precision engineering we figured out how to catch light. We did this with a completely mechanical device that moves reliably and accurately in thousandths of a second, that lets in just the right amount of light into a box that's otherwise completely dark. And somehow, on top of all that, it's a joy to hold and use. It is nothing short of genius that we were able to achive this.

We thought of and measured and built this by hand, and it is beautiful.

It's early days yet, but that's what I think I love about this camera. It's closing on 50 years old, and not only does it still work perfectly, it's also still pretty much the pinnacle of its technology. Sure, we've tinkered around the edges since then, adding autofocus and other tweaks to make the job easier, but in terms of exposing a rectangle of film to precisely the right amount of light there's really no further to go.

Computers have eaten the world. We're so used to the idea of machines thinking for us - or at least I am - that when something comes along that's entirely analogue it kind of just leaves me reeling. It's completely dumb, but it's so clever. Cameras, and clocks, and record players and printing presses, and the Saturn V moon rocket - they're works of collective human genius, built bit by bit by thousands of minds. They remind us that we were capable of so much. And when we put our minds to it, we still can be.

Anyway, enough navel-gazing. Go look at some photos:

flickr album preview and link

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