Warsaw, Climate Care, and Pierogi

I love October.

Sure, the days are getting shorter, but that makes you appreciate every ray of the sun so much more. Every warm-ish (by that, I mean 13 degrees celsius) weekend feels like the last day of summer prompting you to use it well. Soft light and falling leaves add a romantic appeal to even the most mundane street that happened to have a plant. Or maybe my sentiment comes from the fact that I was born in October. Who am I to know.

Warsaw is great

As part of my Solarpunk research bender, I joined an online InterIntellect salon about planning livable, sustainable, and inspiring cities. (“Inter Intellect is like a remote Parisian cafe where you can meet smart people and chat about complex things. But bring-your-own-coffee.”)

We had a strong representation (including some urban planning professionals) of Londoners and San-Franciscans interested in transportation, food availability, supply chain management, cycling, density, and green space availability. We had a great chat, but I was surprised to leave the call blown away by how fantastic Warsaw scored on those dimensions. For example, on the topic of reducing food waste, we came to an interesting point:

Cantine-style bars would be more sustainable than cooking because they can optimize for seasonal or abundant produce, and benefit from the economies of scale. Restricted choice, but flexibility in portion sizes will result in less food waste than at restaurants, or even your own kitchen (RIP multiple celeries that we didn’t use up in time. We have failed you). Plus, by eating together, you get to create a sense of community.

People from around the world have reinvented Polish “Milk Bar” in front of my eyes. From Eater’s article accurately titled “Your First Stop in Poland Should Be a Milk Bar”:

Warsaw’s traditional, dairy-focused cafeterias dole out nostalgic charm and plump pierogies in equal measure (…) When Communist rule took root in Poland and inexpensive food for the masses became a must, these accessible eateries flourished. Though the Iron Curtain has long since fallen, the traditions and tastes of these often government-subsidized eateries remains

I never thought I’d live long enough to hear people from San Francisco and London dream of what I took for granted in my hometown. I know the grass is always greener, etc, etc, but Warsaw is becoming quite a hidden gem. Founder of Nomadlist compares it to Berlin. We have some way to go, but it’s genuinely cool here.

The Climate Care Industry

In The Climate Care Industry I propose a new term for all activity aimed at helping the climate:

An entire industry is sprouting around mitigating effects of the climate change, capturing CO2, and creating sustainable technology. We need a term that will help establish these efforts as their own domain to help them succeed. I propose we start referring to this industry as Climate Care, similar to Healthcare.

Current phrasing is either combative (“fighting the climate change”), confusing (“negative emissions” vs “climate-positive”) or easy to argue against. You can read more about the climate care industry here.

The need for maintenance

Stewart Brand is an inspiring citizen of the Internet. His The Clock of the Long Now remains one of my favorite books, blaming our short-term orientation for landing us in trouble repeatedly. Currently, Stewart is writing a book about maintenance, and the need for an honest conversation about it.

The first chapter is on Audible, and tells a story of the first race to sail solo non-stop around the world, and how maintenance played a crucial part in the success, failure, and death of its participants. Stories like these should be mandatory for everybody working with the software. Other disciplines have millennia of experience dealing with stuff breaking, but we just shrug it away. We are so proud of our cleverness and layers of abstractions, but we almost always over-prepare for the problems we’re familiar with and under prepare for anything else.

Old systems break in familiar ways. New systems break in unexpected ways

In my 15 years of software development, I learned the hard way, that maintenance has to be a part of the design, not an afterthought:

  • Always choose simplicity
  • Don’t try to impress your engineer friends
  • Plan your maintenance if you want your stuff to work.

What is complicated will always lead to problems

Would you like some adulthood with that order?

We have built a culture of permanent adolescence, with nobody really steering the ship. Inability to perform basic human maintenance is sometimes celebrated (“LOL, adulting is hard”).

My wife will be hosting an Inter Intellect salon (that Parisian cafe with your own coffee), where you can meet interesting folk debating rites of passage, visions of adulthood learned from our parents or school, and the secrets of successful adults.

The usual badges of adulthood are either out of reach or completely lost their appeal. We don’t know what else could be put in their place. Without a shared narrative that explains what is even the point of growing up, or experienced elders who could guide the candidates through this process, a lot of us don’t feel like proper adults even in our 30s.

Go get your ticket here.

The Climate Care Industry

An entire industry is sprouting around mitigating the effects of climate change, capturing CO2, and creating sustainable technology. We need a term that will help establish these efforts as their own domain to help them succeed. I propose we start referring to this industry as Climate Care, similar to Healthcare.

Why do we need a new term?

There is little argument about the importance of the Healthcare industry. It’s a natural process that our bodies break down. They need maintenance and mending to work according to our needs, wants, and hopes.

The Planet’s Climate needs similar care if humanity is to continue thriving on its surface. Earth was, is, and will be fine without our intervention, but the conditions suitable to our survival need upkeep and maintenance, regardless of whoever is to blame.

Current language referring to climate-related efforts is combative, divisive, and unwieldy. Phrases like “battling the effects of the climate change”, “averting the climate crisis”, “dealing with climate emergency” are wordy, negative (both in grammar and valence), and all are easy to argue against with a simple “calm down”.

The process of creating a sustainable future needs itself to be sustainable. We are just starting, and already we have an entire generation exhausted by “Apocalypse Fatigue” and “DoomScrolling” (Notice how the negative terms are so catchy?). 

We need tales to inspire, not tales to condemn.

What is The Climate Care Industry?

We also have a generation of people willing to devote their careers to mitigating the problem. As The Guardian reported, Gen Z members are flocking to climate-related careers. Chris Sacca (@sacca) has created Lower Carbon Capital, a venture capital firm devoted solely to funding startups in the Climate Care Industry. The payments giant Stripe has created Stripe Climate, an arm targeting and funding early technologies of negative emissions.

Efforts in The Climate Care Industry can take many forms:

  • Working on a new technology of capturing CO2
  • Writing about new developments of sustainable technology
  • Inspiring people through art and writing to hope for a better future
  • Funding companies helping the climate
  • Passing legislation regulating our use of resources
  • Anything else that helps regulate the climate

Like Healthcare, Manufacturing, Finance, etc. – Climate Care deserves its own industry phrased in peaceful terms. It will help people build careers and plan their futures of helping our planet and ourselves.

Alexander von Humboldt: the first Solarpunk

Alexander von Humboldt served as a role model for Goethe’s Faust and helped Thomas Jefferson build the agricultural power of the United States. He inspired Charles Darwin to hop on the beagle to follow in his steps, Thoreau to seek close connection to nature at the Walden Pond, and Muir to create the national park system.

He has sown the seeds for the environmental movement of today, but he was not enthusiastic about the prospects:

“The human species could turn even those distant stars ‘barren’ and leave them ‘ravaged’”, Humboldt wrote as early as 1801, just as they were already doing with earth.

Andrea Wulf, the Invention of Nature

Humboldt was captivated by lush nature but loved humanity and the new technological developments. He believed that if we understand Nature and the laws governing her, we can create a sustainable future. He was the first Solarpunk and here are his ideas:

#1: Everything is Connected

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

John Muir wrote, summarizing Alexander von Humboldt’s ideas.

The idea of interconnectedness is central to Alexander von Humboldt’s intellectual pursuits. His relentless curiosity drove him to explore the messy reality of nature. Before Humboldt’s time, the role of the scientist was like one of the librarian – classify, label, and shelve facts. The most recent breakthrough of the natural sciences was the binomial classification – a system of grouping species originating from counting how many teeth or hooves they may have. Humboldt quite prophetically was opposed to such one-dimensional treatment of Nature and relegating science to forever slicing up the world into smaller pieces so they can neatly fit on a bookshelf.

Probably his most influential concept was the Naturgemalde: A vision, painting, and a scene illustrating how different parts of the ecosystem influence each other.

Humboldt’s Naturgemalde: the cross-section of Chimborazo volcano with the entire ecosystem explained.

Naturgemalde was not only a new way to showcase facts and figures like the altitude, vegetation, and snow cover of the Chimborazo volcano but the first piece of art illustrating the influence of these facts over each other. It was during the assembly of Naturgemalde that Humboldt first introduced the idea of vegetation zones – the altitude and temperature range suitable for certain species of plants, creating similar ecosystems in similar places around the globe. 

The evocative nature of the painting has inspired a generation of artists to seek unity and deepen our understanding of Nature instead of resigning ourselves to classify it.

#2: What speaks to the soul escapes our measurements

“What speaks to the soul escapes our measurements.”

Alexander von Humboldt, from the Invention of Nature

Humboldt was a scientist through and through. But as Leonardo Da Vinci before him and Richard Feynman two centuries later, he found beauty in discovering the truth about the world. Nature was a value in itself for Humboldt, not just a means to an end or something to conquer.

It is that emotional bond with the world that let him create the Naturgemalde.

“Nature every where speaks to man in a voice familiar to his soul.”

Alexander von Humboldt, from the Invention of Nature

Poets and authors like Coleridge, Goethe, Thoreau, and Verne were deeply moved by Humboldt’s descriptions of the natural world and paid him homages in their own art. Goethe based Doctor Faust on his dear friend Humboldt, and Julius Verne made sure that Nautilus contained “the complete works of Humboldt”, as Captain Nemo was a great fan.

#3 Humanity has to work WITH nature.

During his travels, Humboldt saw the ruthlessness with which humans treated nature.

Humboldt wrote about the destruction of forests and of humankind’s long-term changes to the environment. When he listed the three ways in which the human species was affecting the climate, he named deforestation, ruthless irrigation, and, perhaps most prophetically, the ‘great masses of steam and gas’ produced in the industrial centres.

The Invention of Nature

Humboldt understood the connections between different parts of the ecosystem and it was clear that short-sighted exploitation of nature will not only destroy habitats but also have dire consequences for humanity. He wasn’t opposed to technology (in fact, he was very excited by the advancements of the 19th century), but he advocated for a nuanced approach towards nature rather than plantations of cash crops.

Solarpunk

252 years after the birth of Alexander von Humboldt birth, the world hasn’t changed much. His prophetic warnings about Humanity’s devastating impact on the natural world have unfortunately came to pass, and we are still trying to find our way out of this mess. I believe that way is the Solarpunk – a trend focusing on inspiring a sustainable future through art, and finding a way for modern technology to coexist with lush nature.

Solarpunks believe that this way is through Art and Technology. Humboldt believed in the power of art to capture and express more than formulas ever could and to inspire others to appreciate the complexity of Nature. Solarpunks believe that this Art can also inspire technologists to create sustainable solutions and policymakers to implement them. Humboldt believed that technology not only can, but has to coexist with Nature:

Humboldt, however, warned that humankind needed to understand how the forces of nature worked, how those different threads were all connected. Humans could not just change the natural world at their will and to their advantage. ‘Man can only act upon nature, and appropriate her forces to his use,’ Humboldt would later write, ‘by comprehending her laws.’

Andrea Wulf, the Invention of Nature

Solarpunks believe that technology coexisting with nature is the only way out of our climate predicament. Alexander von Humboldt was the first member of the Solarpunk movement.

One more thing: I am helping to fund a Solarpunk Art Contest and we are waiting for your Naturgemalde.

Solarpunk Art Contest

Last week, I transferred $1000 worth of magical Internet money (Ethereum) to an Internet stranger (@Yishan), so he can award it to artists inspiring a sustainable future (aka Solarpunk Art contest). How was your week?

Why Solarpunk?

Artist: Imperial Boy

I have written about Solarpunk in a previous issue of this newsletter – it’s a trend focusing on inspiring a sustainable future through art, and finding a way for modern technology to coexist with lush nature.

Solarpunk focuses on tales to inspire, not tales to condemn. Unlike the current debate about climate, it’s not anti-anything. It’s not shaming you for using your car, nor scaring masses with the warnings of the terrible outcomes of our habits. This is not the way out of this mess.

Chill with the dystopias

The original points of Cyberpunk, Mad Max, Black Mirror, and other dystopian stories were to warn us about the slippery slopes, so we can avoid dire consequences. It all backfired, inspiring creators and technologists to make that vision a reality because the aesthetics accompanying the message were compelling.

Please tell me if you know the original source.

Technologists live to create things that they fell in love with as children. Star Trek should be credited for the invention of the iPhone more than Steve Jobs because it sent millions of engineers onto the paths that resulted in technology combined in the slick monolith you hold in your hand today.

Art inspires, and technology follows.

I want the future to be hopeful

The lovely Solarpunk-inspired Chobani commercial

I believe the future is good and humanity’s best days are yet ahead of us. Technology has the potential to not only help the climate (which it did harm before), but continue providing improvements to longevity, health, and education.

We need to point technologists towards respecting nature, and all species on planet earth, creating sustainable habitats, walkable cities, and clean energy sources. We need artists to lead us, so technologists can follow. So lead us somewhere nice.

This is where you come in.

The Solarpunk contest I helped fund is running until November 1st, 2021. The format can be any visual medium (digital, ink, paint, 3D, animated, etc). It should be original art, not published elsewhere. Winners will be chosen by the CEO of Terraformation (@Yishan).

  1. First Place: $2,740 + $100 reprint purchase offer to publish the winning entry as cover art on one of the six first year issues of Solarpunk Magazine$1,000 payable in SOL (Ryan will help you claim).
  2. Second Place: $2,140
  3. Third Place: $1,740
  4. 7 other winners: $1,540

Submission procedure and more details are in this post.

Show us a nice future so we can build it. My future grandchildren are counting on you.

In other news, to match the growing nature-inspired focus of this newsletter and the blog, I redesigned piszek.com to match. Tell me what you think!

We need people who know what they are talking about

Let’s face it, you usually hear advice from people who don’t know what they are talking about.

Do you see Elon Musk listing 10 plants he’d like to see on Mars, or Tim Cook raving about his favorite apps of the week? No, this is preposterous. Their time is better applied elsewhere – solving actual problems.

The same principles reverberate down to less busy people. Real experts and doers typically have more leverage doing stuff than writing articles. Where does it leave the professional advice-givers? Their core competence is giving advice, but the advice they give is not backed by real-world experience – how could they be experts in all they write about?

Hola, hola Artur! I am hearing a lot of advice from you. Does it mean that you don’t know what you are talking about?

This principle applies also to fields other than advice-giving. For example, programmers usually have no idea what the thing they are building is supposed to be doing. They get requirements, but the people who write those requirements have no idea how to write requirements. They can sometimes hire experts in writing requirements, but those, in turn, have no idea about the problem domain AND have no idea how to program.

Most software is unfortunately terrible, and it’s a perfectly implementing programmers’ understanding of how it should look like.

What’s the solution then?

Do you ever wonder how is that small startups with few people can compete with behemoths like Google or Microsoft? Even when their products are direct alternatives?

One explanation is of course the tremendous inefficiency of the corporate world. The other is that a person who knows and cares about the problem space AND can translate this into code is unstoppable.

We need more people who know what they are talking about:

  • We need programmers with experience in what they are coding.
  • We need writers with experience in what they are writing about.
  • We need teachers with experience in how the knowledge can be applied, not talked about.

Democratizing access to publishing has enabled an entire class of bloggers who can write in addition to (and about) things they do. You can read essays by scientists, farmers, construction engineers, and other professionals. Even if they are not experts, they know how to make things happen, which is not the case for career advice-givers.

In my previous email about Monism, I pointed out the perils of a world where everybody is narrowly focused on their fields and this feels like a continuation. The best software is by people with experience from outside programming and the best writing is by people who have something to say about the real world. If that’s you – write about it.

Deliberate Work

In an essay scarily titled “How to Work Hard”, Paul Graham explains why it’s valuable to apply your time effectively, how to do so, and how to enjoy it.

One thing I know is that if you want to do great things, you’ll have to work very hard. I wasn’t sure of that as a kid. Schoolwork varied in difficulty; one didn’t always have to work super hard to do well. And some of the things famous adults did, they seemed to do almost effortlessly. Was there, perhaps, some way to evade hard work through sheer brilliance? Now I know the answer to that question. There isn’t.

Strangely enough, the biggest obstacle to getting serious about work was probably school, which made work (what they called work) seem boring and pointless.

Subjects get distorted when they’re adapted to be taught to kids — often so distorted that they’re nothing like the work done by actual practitioners

Hard Work may sound like something to avoid at all costs, but strategic bursts may be the laziest way to do great things. Check out my previous essay “The lazy way to being outstanding: go after hard things.”

the hard work I am urging you to tackle is the task that is unknown, complex, and emotionally challenging. Your Ego can be hurt, you can be ridiculed, and you can fail. That is the hard part. Copy-pasting spreadsheets or tackling something that should never be done in the first place is safe but tedious and time-consuming. This is dead-end, laborious, and unfulfilling work. Avoid that. Or Automate

Climate tales to inspire

Stripe Climate is an initiative of the payment provider Stripe to help remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

There is a lot to admire about their particular approach, but what caught my eye is that they are using capitalism effectively to enact a real change instead of rolling out another corporate responsibility effort.

  1. Stripe’s mission is to grow the GDP of the Internet, and they recognize climate change as a direct threat. By tying the climate efforts into their main objective, they commit.
  2. Instead of funding companies directly removing CO2 from the air, they act as early purchasers of their carbon removal services (aka offsets). The goal is to help the companies reinvest proceeds into cheaper unit costs and push technology down the innovation curve for next customers. Stripe may purchase removal of a ton of CO2 for $2000, but that purchase will help lower the cost to $200 for future customers.
  3. By purchasing instead of donating, they ensure the economic viability of the technology. When the cost of removing a ton of CO2 from the air drops under $100, then it makes sense to involve government subsidies.
  4. Stripe has committed $11 million to the effort. If you are using Stripe as your payment provider, you can set aside a portion of your earnings to pitch in.

Weird stuff

Scientists have found a way to build logic gates from soldier crabs. So, technically, you could build a whole computer that is powered not by electricity, but by crabs. Read more here.

Forest rebouncing, modern farmers, and LinkedIn psychopaths

Happy Monday! Today’s issue is going to be a medley of things.

Climate tales to inspire

In line with my previous rant in Deliberate 53 – Tales to inspire, not tales to condemn, I want to share good news from the climate front. Despite all Doom, Gloom, and Drama we are assaulted with every day – there is hope and inspiring initiatives are blooming in the Climate “industry”.

Forests are bouncing back

The world is literally a greener place than it was twenty years ago, and data from NASA satellites has revealed a counterintuitive source for much of this new foliage. A new study shows that China and India—the world’s most populous countries—are leading the increase in greening on land. The effect comes mostly from ambitious tree-planting programs in China and intensive agriculture in both countries.

The research team found that global green leaf area has increased by 5 percent since the early 2000s, an area equivalent to all of the Amazon rainforests.

You can read more in this NASA study.

I wrote a few things this week

In Oldschool Internet and the Blockchain I took a look at how big corporations are cannibalizing open standards the Internet is built upon, and how blockchain tech can help protect what’s left.

If you are using Roam, I have a treat for you (and if you’re not, this paragraph is going to be very confusing). In order to introduce a little more serendipity into my Zettelkasten, I wrote a plugin that will surface old blocks of my choosing into my daily pages. Every day, I enjoy a random block with a “Review” or “Grateful” tag. The plugin is called Troamback.

Using the precious few moments I can scavenge for myself while caring for my toddler, I am frantically typing up my long-overdue book reviews. The Scientist in the Crib is a deep dive into the cognitive framework of children exploring the world and how they closely match the scientific method. Of Wolves and Men is an account of the relations between the titular species.

Deliberate 52 – Farmers always Worked From Home ended up on the front page of Hacker News (New Yorker has a good intro on the social network if you’re not familiar). This is always exciting, but in a predictable Hacker News fashion, it sparked an unrelated and detailed discussion about the state of modern farming. Here are my favorite comments:

This commenter makes a great point how chores are now significally less laborious than in the past. It echoes the sentiment from my favourite TED Talk – Hans Rosling’s “The Magical Washing Machine”:

I think the problem with this debate isn’t about how much people have worked in the past, but more about what actually is work.

For example, in today’s society we do not think of basic chores like laundry as work, but in the past laundry was far more labor-intensive due to the lack of washing machines. Is repairing your broken furniture or clothes work? Is preparing your own food work? Those things are trivialized in today’s advanced capitalist societies, but might have been a substantial part of life for people in the past. Nowadays most people seem to just buy new furniture and clothes, and even food preparing has been substantially trivialized by resteraunts, orders, takeouts, and readymade meals, so we’re probably much more prilvileged than they were. But did the medieval people saw all of this extra work as “work” in today’s sense? (Graeber’s famous book (“Bullshit Jobs”) kinda touches on this aspect in the end chapter, but I wish he’ve delved a bit more on it. There’s a whole anthropology of work that’s left unexplored…)

Farming is much different now than it was in the past:

Modern farmers are polyglot technologists. Hybrid GMO seeds are selected to optimize yield in their specific soil and weather conditions. Tractors are largely self-driving along with a host of technology to rival a race car and harvesters give live feedback on the quality and quantity of grain so that farmers can make decisions about what to do with the grain- sell immediately, store, or take to a specialized storage facility to dry. Crops are rotated seasonally to minimize pests and optimize soil quality, sometimes on complex multi-year patterns of cover crops, cash crops, spring harvests, etc. Underground “tiling” is installed to speed the flow of water away from low-lying sections of fields to maintain consistent soil moisture across fields on rolling hills. And the futures, options, insurance and debt financing decisions to maintain stable income in the face of unpredictable weather and commodity prices rivals what any investment banker in Manhattan is doing. And that’s just for commodity grain producers, meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables have their own unique uses of cutting edge science and technology. A group of farmers in Iowa sitting at a conference about managing soil nitrogen are likely leveraging far more real science and tech than a group of web developers in the bay discussing the latest updates to React.

And this one is just so very Hacker News:

I’m a farmer in southern Colorado. Currently we grow marijuana and potatoes. I’m on HN because because I’m a long time Linux user (20+ years) and free software advocate and this is where a lot of the old boys still lurk

Deliberate Internet

Finally, I want to start your week by recommending “What I Learned from a Week of Shitposting on LinkedIn“. The whole social network is just something else, and Kyle Coberly calls out the particular narrative style:

It’s a special kind of skill to make a post that’s nominally about someone else, but is ultimately all about you.

And then has some fun with it:

How can you tell if the person you’re interviewing is also a GoodPerson? The math is a simple system of equations:

goodperson = you
goodperson = candidate
you = candidate = goodperson

That’s why you should only hire people exactly like yourself.

My LinkedIn timeline could definitely use more fun and a little fewer success junkies.