This Week in Upgrades: July 11

Hello, friend. You hanging in there? If I’m honest, I’ve been too stunned and saddened by recent current events to write. Alton Sterling. Filando Castile. Dallas. Why does it seem like every day lately gives us new violence and injustice?

Our hope in such seeming hopelessness is action. What that action is will take time, reflection, and intentionality. When I can gather some of my own thoughts, I’ll write more about it to create a space for dialogue.

Some other things worthy of consideration from this week, and a few lighthearted ones to help with the emotional and empathy fatigue:

This June was the hottest June the US has ever had.

Here’s a great little video on how North America got its shape.

Google’s self-driving cars can now understand hand signals. Automated vehicles require a lot of nuance (because driving is nuanced, obviously).

Likewise, the Tesla autopilot accidents are a reminder that we’re too trusting, too soon. That is not a fully automated system. Don’t be dumb.

Faced with a choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, many Americans wish there was a third choice. We need more than two political parties in the United States, and this election has brought that to the fore.

This young man is bound for great musical things.

Another reminder about democracy and the middle class in an age of automation. If we don’t act now, it’s not going to turn out well.

Why are salt and pepper on every dinner table?

Have a great, safe week.


Who Needs a Gun?

It’s happened again. The horrific violence in Orlando is at least the 133rd mass shooting of 2016, and the 998th since Sandy Hook in 2012–a moment in history when any reasonable person would have thought: surely the slaughter of twenty kids and their six teachers will change gun policy in America. Nope. In fact, the tragedy at Pulse in Orlando is now the deadliest mass shooting in US history. They seem to be only getting worse.

There’s reason to worry that the frequency of mass shootings and the absence of any gun policy change are making us desensitized to gun violence. These kinds of tragedies in the age of social media have a very short half-life of attention. In a few weeks, will you still be mourning the victims in Orlando and clamoring for changes to gun laws in America? Will I?

Maybe instead of losing the forest for the trees with the particulars of each shooting as they happen–the number of casualties, the religion and mental state of the shooter–we need to ask more poignant, all-encompassing, difficult questions. A question like:

What citizen needs a gun in 2016?

If we’re objective and honest, nobody needs one. There are many people who want one–recreational hunters, for example. But no regular citizen of the United States needs–fundamentally, unequivocally–to possess a firearm. If you disagree, ask yourself why?

What exactly do you expect to happen that necessitates owning your own firearm? Hunting for meals? Someone trying to murder you in your home? Self-defense against a suddenly tyrannical US government?

How likely are those scenarios to happen?

The reality is that today, no one needs to hunt for their meals. We are thoroughly civilized and consumerized by the likes of superstores, farmers’ markets, convenience stores, and restaurants. They all are regularly supplied by reliable food production systems that ensure that even the family mart in Quaint Town, USA, has some organic meat and produce available. Even those who hunt primarily “for the meat” only make up 35% of hunters–not even close to a majority. And it’s not clear that nowadays it costs less to hunt for meat–should someone declare that regular groceries are unaffordable. To be sure, a game meat like venison is absolutely delicious–I grew up in Wisconsin with the occasional family-hunted jerky, steaks, and sausage. But it’s not essential to survival. Just enjoyable when you can get it. And you could get it with weaponry other than a firearm. That’s not a need.

Nor does anyone need to own a gun in expectation of a home intruder. Statistically, it’s actually less safe if you do have a gun in the home. It’s much more likely a family member or close friend will be shot with it–domestic violence, suicide, or child-related accident–than a criminal intruder. Even if you are in the uncommon situation of an intruder in your home when you’re there, there’s a reasonable chance that: (1) the gun gets taken over from you; or (2) that you reactively shoot as soon as you see someone and discover it’s a person you know (that you may have been able to talk down), someone unarmed (and therefore not immediately life-threatening), or even someone innocently entering the house when you weren’t expecting it.

As for the so-called citizen militia scenario, let’s all simply recognize there is no modern Lexington and Concord to come. The United States today has a flawed, yet relatively stable democracy. Citizen paranoia is much more probable than violent state tyranny.

So, again, where is the need for a gun for the average citizen in 2016? There isn’t, it’s a want.

And if it is just a want, we better ask another question:

What does a gun do?

For too long, too many have gone along with the guns don’t kill people, people kill people cliche. But ask yourself: what is the purpose of a gun? What is its function? To have portable, quick-to-initiate, precise, lethal force, in a way that extends and amplifies the human physiological capacity for violence–like a punch or throwing a rock. In short, guns inherently wound and kill. You don’t use them as a replacement flower vase or to tie your shoes, because that’s not what they do. 

It’s a relatively narrow and modern application to use them in an intentionally non-injurious way like target shooting. And, even so, there are surely less risky and intense hobbies than loading up a firearm and trying to rupture specific places on a stationary target or objects flying through the air–even though that may be a fun skills challenge or stress-relieving.

But what about freedom?

Indeed, the United States is a country wrapped in the necessity of that immensely powerful idea. “Life, liberty (i.e. freedom), and the pursuit of happiness,” are the DNA of this country. But freedom doesn’t mean everyone gets to do whatever they want. Each person in the United States surely should have freedom from violence–as much as people desire to have the freedom to buy many things they want. Needs are more vital than wants. And freedom from violence is unquestionably a need, whereas the freedom to own a firearm–a piece of technology that’s primary purpose is to wound and kill–is a want.

We should therefore question how that want can impinge and is impinging on freedom from violence. The terror in Orlando has given us a fresh reminder of that. The shooter was an American citizen–legally in the country–using a Sig Sauer MCX–a semi-automatic firearm legally purchased. The victims were innocently trying to enjoy their lives and pursue happiness.

Whatever the original intent of the Second Amendment, it doesn’t seem to fit the current era of guns and gun violence. And, in fact, Thomas Jefferson was mindful of such unforeseen times:

via @JohnFugelsang

Existing gun policy is clearly “unadapted to the good of the nation”–to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in 21st century America. It’s time to think outside the box–outside of dogma, partisanship, and prejudice–about real freedom, what guns are for, and who actually needs one. Too many innocent people have died or will be killed as we’ve maintained the status quo of lax laws to accommodate want.


This Week in Upgrades: May 23

Alright…so I spent most of the week sick, and unproductive as a result. My usual mid-week post and Friday How to Adult were unfortunate casualties of that. Sorry!

I’m feeling much better today, though, so let’s leave that in the past and get the week started right. Just a handful of days left in May to give it all we’ve got.

Here’s what was good, interesting, and important in the last week:

Who knew that trees sleep?

Will the new food label help people eat smarter?

How can we combat an antibiotic apocalypse?

In encouraging health news, scientists have successfully removed HIV DNA from living tissue–possibly a step closer to a cure.

Is the idea of a biological clock simply a sexist myth?

India hit a shocking record-high temperature this week.

The price of solar energy is becoming more competitive, which bodes well for the environment.

Some scientists want to bring back wooly mammoths. Why?

A brief, but insightful Q&A with Noam Chomsky on current affairs.

The United States now has over a trillion dollars in credit card debt. Hooray! (Not.)

Does power indeed corrupt?

Superdelegates will probably decide the Democratic Party nominee for president. Why do they exist?

What can we learn from the ancient Greeks about technology?

Consumerism and “free trade,” epitomized.

Speaking of consumerism, have you seen Century of the Self? More relevant than ever.

Show this week who’s bossbut don’t take yourself too seriously.


This Week in Upgrades: March 7

…And we’re back! After a couple weeks of needed break, I’m refreshed and ready to write up a storm. Los Angeles is even cooperating today with my favorite writing conditions: gray, rainy, and cool.

To get the week started right, here are some of the most interesting human things from the last seven days–free of Donald Drumpf (Except for that essential John Oliver video in the link. You absolutely must watch it if you haven’t).

Why are human beings curious?

Grammar upgrade: less vs. fewer.

Others on the go deeper than perceptions train: beware the dominant narrative.

For the first time, the Northern Hemisphere has averaged 2 degrees celsius above pre-industrial temperatures–the benchmark beyond which many scientists believe climate change becomes especially dangerous for human beings. Gulp.

Speaking of climate change, Sunday night’s Democratic Debate finally touched on fracking–the fool’s gold strategy for cleaner energy.

Sad confirmation of what most Millennials probably already know: “…The economic downturn, slow recovery and student debt have cancelled out today’s record workforce productivity and levels of higher education.”

Researchers have released sound recordings from the deepest trench in the ocean, and they’re super eerie. Please don’t play these around me. #thalassophobia

What do we know about the entry-level Tesla Model 3–the car that’s supposed to bring electric vehicles to the masses?

Cured meats are delicious. Up your food knowledge with salumi 101.

There’s a growing consensus that exposure to peanuts as an infant prevents the development of a peanut allergy. Interesting.

Thoroughly satisfying video of a log cabin start to finish.


This Week in Upgrades: Feb 1

Good Monday to you! It’s an exciting day. A new month is a good time for a fresh start, whether it’s big things or small. We’ve got a February 29th since it’s a Leap Year, so you have an extra day to become more awesome between now and March. Here’s why you can’t stop doing that thing you should stop doing.

The Iowa Caucuses this evening officially begin the election of our next President. I’d love for you to read my thoughts on voting from Friday’s How to Adult and tell me what you think. Hope you’re planning on voting when it’s your state’s turn.

The Super Bowl is on Sunday, and even though most of us are not Broncos or Panthers fans we’ll probably still tune in: for the commercials, for the Beyonce, for the GIF-able moments, for the food. I’ll definitely be watching. If you want to impress your friends and family, Alton Brown has your back with a Short Ribs Queso Dip recipe. Sounds incredible.


Here are some other interesting human things this week:

We learned beautiful words in other languages that do not have an English equivalent. We should work on that.


The Atlantic made a compelling case why wealthy kids like healthier foods. Did you know that some studies have suggested it takes 8-15 times eating a particular thing before kids will appreciate it? It’s not exactly inexpensive to get them to like their vegetables. How can we make it affordable for everyone to eat well?


Elon Musk announced that he’ll be unveiling SpaceX’s mission to Mars plans in September. Hopefully Matt Damon isn’t on the crew.


Speaking of Mr. Musk, it looks like several others, including the US Government, are intrigued by a Hyperloop. Would you travel like this? I feel scared and excited at the same time.


The CDC has declared Chipotle’s foodborne illness outbreak over. Will you be going back for a burrito?


Love it or hate it, Macklemore and Jamila Wood’s “White Privilege II” was discussed left and right after it was released. What do you think? Here’s a Q&A they did with NPR about the creation of the song.



How to Adult: Voting

If you can believe it, the actual choosing part of the presidential race is going to begin on Monday with the Iowa caucuses. If to this point you haven’t kept up with the latest Donald Trump theatrics or been watching social media overflow with #FeeltheBern it’s OK. Nothing super important has happened just yet, because no one has voted yet.

But with Iowa officially getting the ball rolling in just a few days, now is a good time to figure out who you’re going to vote for if you haven’t.

Yes, you should definitely vote. Common cynicism about how my vote doesn’t mean anything or the government is broken and isn’t going to be fixed is understandable. But how do you expect things to ever change if you don’t raise your voice? Though it’s an incredibly lofty and hackneyed-sounding ideal, the American government truly is supposed to be of the people, by the people, and for the people. Voter turnout in the 2014 midterm election was just over 1/3 of eligible voters–the lowest since World War II. How can anyone expect our government to function properly and be representative of the general population if only a handful of people are participating? How might our country’s future be impacted if 60% or even 75% of eligible voters show up? Changing the status quo begins with your vote.

So, where to start? If you already know which presidential candidate you like, then you should plan to vote for them in the primary in your state when it happens. Here’s a calendar if you don’t know when yours is. A few states have caucuses because they’re old-school. Here’s a short video explaining the difference between caucuses and primaries. Make sure you register properly ahead of time if you need to.

If you don’t know who you’re going to vote for, now’s the time to sift through everything you can get your hands on. Push beyond surface features like political party (the person you end up liking best may be in a party you’ve never voted for or don’t generally agree with), religious affiliation, gender, home state, the amount of media coverage, someone’s outraged Facebook post, and the like.

Try to watch a number of speeches and debates candidates have participated in. They’re easy to YouTube nowadays. Ask yourself:

Is a particular person consistent in their message, or do they seem to change their mind a lot about their convictions and intentions?

Are there issues they have been fighting for a long time for and made good progress on?

When they speak, does it seem like they marginalize or belittle certain people, or do they seem like a candidate who is trying to represent everyone’s best interests no matter their ethnicity, age, gender, income, etc.?  

Look into each candidate’s position on specific issues–especially ones that are most important to you. If you care a lot about climate change, who seems to have the best plan to address it in the coming years, and a history of good environmental policy? If you care a lot about healthcare, who seems to have the best ideas about ensuring affordability, access, and quality of care? If you care a lot about immigration, who seems to have the empathy and strategy to address it? If you have a lot of student debt, who has the best plan to ease that burden?

Try not to let only one issue drive your decision-making. Our president needs to be someone who can lead and make sound judgments on a number of different aspects of American society.

If you dig and research and ponder and are still not sure, talk to people you trust about who they really like. Listen for good reasons to be for a particular candidate as opposed to choosing one by default because they’re against and vilifying others who are running. I can’t stand so-and-so, so I’m voting for… is not a wise way to choose.

Take time and figure out who you think the best person is to lead America for the next four years. We need a society where more people are engaged in the democracy we have so that things genuinely function for the well-being of everyone. That engagement, and voting, specifically, is part of being an adult. If you wish things were different, you can’t just stand on the sideline and Like witty posts about the failures and absurdities. Show up to your polling place so you can post a #iVoted instead. The sticker is pretty cool too.