Renewable Energy

Hey America! Fossil Fuel is not the answer. Even Nuclear Power is unnecessary. Let’s set aside the debate over whether or not global climate change is happening or if it caused by man. It does not matter. There are enough reasons to stop using fossil fuels without that.

The argument about the technology not being ready has been made since the 1970s. The technology is there now. We have the ability. Yes, batteries are still the weak point, but there are very promising possibilities there too (Tesla) (Hydrogen). The potential energy that is out there is astonishing. The power from the sun alone provides more than we need.

Many countries are making great headway towards completely eliminating the use of fossil fuels (Germany) (Austria) (China). If this is possible so quickly after starting down this road, why is America vowing only to reduce our output by a small percentage over the next several decades? Those in power are making this seem like it is an incredibly difficult goal to attain and is going to make a huge difference.

The only reason that this is challenging is because of the power that the existing structure has to prevent any change. Our current model is to the benefit of a few who will pay a lot of money to keep it the way it is.

What about the other objections people raise? One of the strangest to me is that the technology is not nice to look at. For one thing, what is more important? The future of the planet or the color of your roof? Another thing, the methods of getting fossil fuels are a lot less pretty. solar_vs_fossil_fuels

Ok, so you don’t want solar panels or wind turbines in your backyard and you are willing to pay for the line loss. There are other possibilities too.

Or you could just use your clear windows! There are many projects out there, big and small.

In fact keeping energy production closer to home can solve lots of problems. As far as I can tell the main reason that we are currently using large wind and solar farms rather than investing more in at-home systems is because the power companies still get their cut this way.

Ok, what about those job losses we hear so much about? Renewables create more jobs than it replaces.

A few more arguments that are worth discussing.

Ok, so this is more like a list of outside info than a real post, but seriously, the information is out there. I don’t need to repeat it.

Advertisements

5 Most & 5 Least Patriotic Things Americans Do

Patriotism. I am a proud American, but I bow my head in shame for some things Americans do.

The most Patriotic things that we do are in support of those principles that make us proud to be Americans.

5)  Vote – In this country we have the ability to influence our government. This is the easiest way to do it. I understand that there are limits on our personal influence for many reasons, but if we don’t even participate in it, we are not only giving up that influence, but we are telling people that we don’t care enough.

4)  Agree to Disagree – This may be the most difficult thing on this list. In order to have a healthy discussion about anything, we must be open to hearing about others opinions. Even though we may be very emotionally attached to our own, hearing others is what helps us to work through any flaws in our thinking. If you are in it to win it, listening may help to understand enough to compromise or influence others.

3)  Petition – This is another very simple gesture that can have a great effect on policy. Voting on who is in office is only the first part of our civilian influence. Those is office want to return, and so they want to keep their voters happy. Let them know what you want them to do, either by writing them directly or signing petitions that others have created.

2)  Protest – We have a right to fight for what we believe in. Although the Patriot Act limits this,  we still are able to make a difference through these means. This can mean private corporations, or even, the government.

1)  Stand up to Government – There are many protections that the founding fathers set up in our government to protect the people from the government. These are being systematically removed. As Americans, if we want to make sure that our country is still worthy of our loyalty, we need to keep the government within its rights and make sure that we protect the rights and privileges of all for the future.

The least Patriotic things are about blind loyalty.

5)  Flag waving – This is not inherently unpatriotic, but it is if we are out of touch.

4)  Give up on Democracy – I fully understand that our democracy has limitations, and has evolved over the centuries for better and for worse. Our job is to make sure that it keeps getting better.

3)  Trying to Force Others to Agree With Us – The greatness of America lies in the multitude of varying opinions and backgrounds. No-one has the right to tell someone that their way is inferior. That applies to everything from freedom of religion to the ‘Spread of Democracy’. If we truly want to prove that our way is better, let us try to lead by example, not force.

2)  Creating, or Allowing the Creation of a Class System – Throughout history, all over the world there have been class systems. The people at the top were able to control the people on the bottom to varying degrees. Today we may not have an official system of nobility and citizenry, but we do have it. This is the most damaging thing to the functioning of democracy and the greatness of this country.

1)  Pledge of Allegiance – I feel a chill down my spine when I hear a classroom full of children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Children memorize it before they even know what the words mean. That said, I do support the principles of the pledge, ‘liberty and justice for all’. The problem is that it is just words. If you think about it, we pledge our allegiance to nothing but a piece of fabric. That fabric holds a lot of symbolism, but in reality is nothing more. We are also pledging our allegiance to the republic. We are vowing to help hold up not the liberty and justice part, but the republic that happens to have those. Before anyone recites this pledge, they need to fully understand what it means. I fully Pledge my Allegiance to this great nation – so long as liberty and justice prevail.

 

Fear & Trust

Once upon a time people knew everyone they came into contact with on a regular basis. When a stranger came to town everyone knew about it and was full of curiosity. That stranger was alienated by a sense of otherness, and could cause problems, but they were so outnumbered by the locals that it was not likely.

As cities grew larger people grew into small groups of trust, and people who were up to no good had the ability to blend in and hide. Bandits could come into town, work their mischief and leave as quickly as they had arrived. On the other side, locals could scam people, but if they tried to scam other locals they would probably be caught, and so most choose to prey on people passing through town or skip the scam and go the sneakier burglary  /pickpocket route.

As transportation has become easier, strangers are more common, and are largely ignored. In large cities no-one even knows who is local and who is not. Small towns seem to exist largely due to the tourism industry, and so strangers are just a part of everyday life.

Most people have just accepted this status quo of not knowing who is nearby. We routinely lock our homes and automobiles, women carry pepper spray to protect themselves, and we choose to live under the watchful eye of video surveillance systems to keep others in check.

Why do we, especially Americans, do this? We have been told so many times that the world is out to get us that we believe it. On the news we hear stories about people who were trusted with something taking advantage of, or just generally not deserving that trust. We hear stories of the time that a child was left in the day care’s van after a field trip and left to die, we hear stories of people’s lives being torn apart as the result of a burglary, and we hear about people being massacred on a public street. These are terrible things, and we should be aware of them.

The problem is that these are the only stories we hear. We do not get to hear the stories about a nurse who spends her time off the clock reading to coma patients, we do not hear the stories about the homeless man who picks up garbage in the neighborhood for free every day, or the bank manager who knowingly sets his own wages less than his employees and sets raises based on personal situations rather than work ethic.

We have been conditioned to think the worst of everyone around us. Fear is used for advertising everything from mouth wash to legal policies. It is also perpetuated by laws that hold the homeowner responsible for injuries on their property, even when the person is not supposed to be there. Many tales have been told of robbers who successfully sued the homeowner for injury, even if the robber themselves broke the window that injured them. In some countries homeowners insurance covers break-ins even if the front door was unlocked.

So how can we trust anyone? The short answer is we can’t. But as social beings who need human interaction, we balance risk and reward. We go to school, work, shopping malls, etc even though we know about the massacres that have happened in these places. Our experience tells us that these are very rare, and we take that risk. In fact we scorn the people unwilling to take that risk as insane.

As we meet people and make new friends we do develop a level of trust, but deep down we know that there is no way to know what they do behind our backs. This is part of what causes so many paternity suits and why we have structures built up to keep businesses accountable.

Today a movement known as the ‘sharing economy’ has been making an appearance. This is still largely a fringe movement, but some things have become mainstream, like eBay. In the beginning this was a very risky way to purchase or sell things. The product might not be what was advertised, or even exist at all. The payment may never arrive, and the seller had no recourse. Policies have been enacted since then that hold both parties responsible and protect them from the possibility of things going wrong.

Craigslist is still very basic. When using craigslist the risk is still a part of the user experience and something to be wary of. The company has published tips on how each party can protect themselves, but does not vet participants in any way, no reviews, or much in the way of account creation. They have chosen to welcome newcomers as equals rather than to embrace those who are in it for the long haul.

Both of these examples are largely just a way to facilitate a single transaction. Craigslist encourages in person exchanges, while eBay requires no face-to-face interaction. Other examples of this ‘sharing economy’ are just coming into the market. These range from renting out rooms in your home to hooking up for the evening or going out to eat at an aspiring chef’s home. These examples have followed eBay’s example to assist the users in trusting the other party. This allows participants a way to engage in activities that would normally be considered very risky with less fear. That is good thing, but some have also been accused of deleting negative reviews in the hopes of creating a positive public perception. There is also the issue of being held accountable for those reviews and not wanting to criticize a nice person.

I see this movement as a good thing as a whole. We need to find a way to trust again. Even if that trust is supported by a business structure. Anyone who has walked down a public street in New York knows that of the thousands of people we may come into contact with on a given day, we avoid 99% of them. Even those we do interact with, like cashiers, we cannot fully trust.

This is also a great way for people with similar interests to meet up and make friends. Even something as mundane as ride-sharing can lead to a lifelong friendship, especially if both parties are put at ease enough to open up.

As someone who works in customer service, I also see the potential, if this type of economy really took off, of the weeding out of the bad apples leading to public businesses, who have no way to review guests, having to deal with only those left out of the sharing economy. This means that since businesses are the only ones held accountable , they are forced to stretch themselves more and more to accommodate, and keep happy, worse and worse customers.

But is that really a bad thing? I could replace my income by renting out rooms and giving people rides, so long as I was a trustworthy person. I could use those services from other trustworthy people, creating a parallel, better, more transparent, economy. This would encourage people to be trustworthy, and so able to use this economy where people share the things that they value, adding value to the economy as a whole, without the need for more products. The economy of those who are deemed unworthy would be unsustainable, and self-punish those forced to use it. I honestly believe that most people are good. Even more so when being bad is not rewarded.

By supporting people who share only what they personally have, rather than those who have more than they need, this also creates a more equitable system. It could return the balance of power to the individual instead of the corporation, but only if you trust the corporation to properly vet the individuals.

 

Fashion

With my obsession with clothing, it may come as a surprise that, while I do enjoy studying historical fashion trends, I find modern fashion largely uninteresting. Every once in a while something will pop up that I like, but usually it is something that references historical fashion. In casual conversation I usually just dismiss modern fashion as boring, which is the reason that I don’t really like it. But there is more to modern fashion that bothers me than that. Prices.

I do not, cannot, and  will not understand how brand names mean higher prices. The Louis Vatton bag looks the same to me as the one at wal-mart, except that the one at wal-mart I am not paying someone to advertise for them. The quality is no better than the cheap wal-mart version or the knock offs. I have had people argue this one to no end, but I do work with these things, I know what I am looking at. As far as I have seen, men’s suits and the fabrics they use is the only exception to this rule, but even then the nice fabrics that are worth a higher price do not always go with an expensive brand name.

I completely understand paying more for a better product, I understand paying the person who makes something what it costs for them to make it. I expect that. I charge more for my work than you could buy a Halloween costume at party city, but I make it out of sturdy materials, I make it to fit the customer, and I expect to be paid for my expertise and time, as well as the costs of materials. What I do not get is paying more money for the EXACT SAME PRODUCT. We are not talking a few dollars here, it is the difference between $20 and $500. The only difference is the big showy label that says “I paid way too much for this bag!”

Honestly if people choose to spend their hard-earned money in this way this is their business, not mine. It does become my business when people assume that ‘homemade’ means cheap. It is my business when people want me to make them a real Victorian corset for the same as they could buy a cheap Halloween costume ‘corset’. It is my business when people think that because I do not make these brand-name things that my labor is worth less than they would pay for that.

Draping

Draping

This dress is just a draping project. It is pinned together on the dress form. If it was to be constructed, this pinning would then be used to create the pattern. The neckline looks crooked and has always bothered me in this picture, but it was just hanging that way.

As for me, this is how I went to my classes that day, antennae and all.

A Costume Designer’s Perspective on Halloween

In case you could not guess, I am a big fan of Halloween. Not because I can dress up, since I do that anyway (and at work it doesn’t matter, I still can’t.) It is because other people dress up, it’s like the one day that the population at large joins me in my world. It is special. This means that unfortunately I expect a lot of people. Looking online I see pictures of inspired, intricate costumes that took planning and dedication.

Last night and tonight I have been watching costumed guests pass through the lobby at the hotel. People put in time to get ready to go to their parties, they get all dressed up, they do their makeup, they do their hair. Some of them look pretty good. Sometimes they do themes for groups of friends. You know it’s a good day when a total stranger asks the only woman in the building who is not wearing any makeup how to apply pencil eyeliner.

That is what I want to see everywhere, and for some reason I am surprised every year when that is not what I see.  I know that for most people it’s just one night. They will throw something together at the last minute or buy something cheap off the shelves just to ‘get in the spirit’. This bothers me a little bit. It’s like they think that these cheap costumes that can only be worn once before they fall apart puts them in the same category, ‘people who dress up’. I find these cheap costumes insulting. When I make something I make it to last. Yes, to most people it’s just a costume,  but I value the time and effort. I value the care and dedication. People who wear these cheap costumes cheapen what I do. By using disposable costumes people tell me that what I do is worth no more than that.

More than that though, the problem that I have with these costumes is how sexist they have made this beautiful holiday. Women, and even girls, find that most of the costumes available are ‘sexy’ versions of something. Even the ‘original’ version is often unavailable. This makes it so that women have no other option than to try to be sexy. It is so pervasive today that even the homemade costumes usually lean this way. This year I have noticed several of these costumes with no more than underwear to cover the lower half!

Let me pause here to say that I have no problem with sexy costumes. I have no problem with women, or men, exposing their bodies. I do not believe that doing so inherently objectifies them. I do have a problem when a person’s sense of self-worth comes down to how others perceive them. I do have a problem with women being reduced to no more than their bodies. I do have a problem with having no choice but to dress provocatively. I do believe that this lack of choice objectifies people. They do not have a way to fully express themselves.

There is another problem that this revealing fad causes. Halloween falls during a time when it is getting colder outside. Girls are forced to choose between having the full effect of their costume or of staying warm. That is not healthy. Most girls grin and bear it. Most guys seem oblivious to it. Those that do take notice end up working for the girl, if they care. This means that women are put into a position of helplessness. They will wait inside while the boy goes to bring the car around, or she counts on his coat, or cape, or whatever.

Men, at least, have some choice in their costume type. But even that falls into certain categories, all of which are carefully chosen not to lose any semblance of masculinity. They can be funny, they can be scary, they can be sexy, or they can copy the original (as long as it is a manly thing). The other way that they can preserve their macho-ness is to not really dress up. I have seen many groups where the girls are done up all-out, while the guys just wear a t-shirt with a Velcro cape attached. Okay, I love those shirts, but I was honestly hoping that they would be an introduction to the everyday costume, not herald the end of dressing up.

On another, but related, note. I saw a costume of one of the monkeys, or whatever from The Bloodhound Gang video for The Bad Touch. I stopped myself from complimenting the reference because I realized what stereotype a woman who likes The Bloodhound Gang would fall into. I would instantly go from ‘responsible employee’ to ‘sex fiend’. I am a happily married woman, I like the music, and I find it funny.  If you listen to the music, it is all about sex, but it has never seemed to me to be necessarily about anything more than a guy who likes his girlfriend, which is fine. It is acceptable for a guy to make the reference, although the stereotype would probably lean towards ‘woman user’, since that is what most people think of the band. Unfortunately that stereotype is something that is acceptable, and even funny to most people.

Halloween symbolizes the best and worst of society. It brings out people’s creativity and individuality. But it also cements many popular trends. I am hopeful that I am wrong, and people do know the difference between a disposable costume and something that will last. I am hopeful that people will learn to escape the boxes that marketing and stereotypes have forced us into.

Happy Halloween everybody!

Self-Driving Cars

I first was introduced to this idea on an episode of Scientific American Frontiers in 1997 called ‘Robots Alive’. At the time a university had developed a vehicle that could drive itself down a highway. It could not navigate an intersection, parking lots, or too much confusion, but it was a car that drove itself! I was so excited that I proclaimed that soon you would be able to put a map into the car and that it would go where you wanted it to go.

I did not know that the map technology would come first, in the form of GPS. I had heard of the satellites that could pinpoint your position, and how amazingly accurate they were, but it did not occur to me that they could be overlaid on maps. Honestly I don’t think that I knew then that it was a global system. Today this is so ubiquitous that I get frustrated every time I have to give directions to the hotel where I work.

Many years later, after I had a drivers license, and my own car I began to wonder why do not have these self-driving cars yet. I have done a lot of cross-country driving, which is the technology that I knew specifically had already existed for at least ten years at this point. So I did a little digging. I found out that the research being put into this at the university was shut down. I could hardly believe it. It was shut down because of liability concerns. The thinking was that if one of these vehicles was deemed at fault for an accident the developers and programmers would be the ones held liable.

This opens up a whole other can of worms. In this country we are obsessed with making sure that someone else is to blame for every injury, no matter how small or who is actually responsible. I am no fan of McDonalds, but I do not believe that it is their fault that someone burned themselves on coffee that is obviously hot. This trend of suing others for your own incompetence is at best, stupid, and at worst, detrimental to scientific, technological, economical and societal progression. I am still in shock that the courts of this country have set something this damaging as a legal precedent in this country. It has gotten so crazy that homeowners can be sued by a burglar for injuries caused by hazards created by a burglar himself, and there are tales of this actually succeeding, although I have not found the records to back it up.

In order to get around this ridiculousness of American culture, when Google decided to create their self-driving car they pre-empted this argument. They have already established that the driver of the vehicle is legally responsible for any problems. This works because the car’s control can be overridden easily by the driver at any time by simply taking control as you would normally drive the car.

I also believe that because driving is really a routine of wrote behaviors and following specific signs. This is something that computers are inherently better at than humans are. ‘If this, then that’ is the way that computers think. Humans get distracted, intoxicated, bored, or try to multitask. These are the most common causes of accidents. Even the times that humans think of as a judgment call; for instance making the light before it changes, can be calculated with precision by a computer that we could never match. Driving is a computer-friendly activity. With a properly programmed design, I believe that accidents would largely become a thing of the past. On top of that other groups are working on technology that allows the vehicles to communicate directly with one another. This means that they do not need to anticipate each other’s actions or respond to last minute decisions. The main challenge at this point is accounting for human unpredictability.

When I learned about the Google self-driving car, I was very excited, and I still am. These cars, when I first looked several years ago had already logged over 100,000 miles on the open roads of California. They have all of the advantages of a computer on the road, and are still able to share the roads with human drivers and even avoid pedestrians and pets. In all that time, the only accident that the cars had was a fender-fender in a parking lot while driving under human control. With many more miles under their belts; nearly 1.7 million, they had only 6 accidents. None were caused by the autonomous vehicles (source).

There are other prototypes that would require all vehicles to be replaced with self-driving simultaneously. This is a completely unfeasible model to implement. Parts of the technology may be able to be adopted by others; like the inter-vehicle communications, but I cannot see all Americans giving up driving at the same time.

I am very excited to see these vehicles out there, making our roads safer. I have already seen cars that beep when the driver drifts out of their lane, a technology directly from the show that grabbed my attention so many years ago. There are cars that parallel park themselves, have blind spot monitoring, cruise control that adjusts as people ahead slow down. Tesla Motors actually has a car currently on the market that has an ‘autopilot’ feature that will “steer within a lane, change lanes with the simple tap of a turn signal, and manage speed by using active, traffic-aware cruise control“.

I am hopeful that these technologies will help us prevent accidents in the near future, and eventually be able to eliminate them. For now I am still behind the wheel. I do enjoy driving, but the more that I see of other drivers, the more concerned I am. I know that some drivers have much worse driving records than these cars do, and I believe that letting the cars replace these drivers would make us all safer. That said I totally understand being terrified of technology. I know how often computers malfunction. The automatic response to this type of eventuality must be considered in the design.