A fishy Kickstarter campaign from my philosopher-fishmonger friend

Dylan Hitchcock-Lopez of Seashaken, here demonstrably in fishmonger (as opposed to philosopher) mode.

Dylan Hitchcock-Lopez of Seashaken, here demonstrably in fishmonger (as opposed to philosopher) mode.

My favorite philospher-fishmonger of all time, Dylan Hitchkock-Lopez, has launched  Kickstarter campaign for his startup business, Seashaken. Be sure to click on the video – well worth the 2:40.

The Grist story linked above (and again right there. Sorry to be redundant. Did I mention the Grist story?) does a good job with Dylan’s bio.

How do I know someone young enough to be my son who is launching a business dedicated to bringing sustainable, line-caught (not bycatch-laden net-scooped) salmon from our great petroleum and fish-rich northerly state to the Rocky Mountains? His mom Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock and I were Ted Scripps Fellows in Environmental Journalism together a few years back. He once took me cross-country skiing up at Eldora. Kicked my ass.

I won’t belabor this, but if you’re in Denver/Boulder/Santa Fe, check it out the campaign. I’ve bought Seashaken fish before and it’s a treat. The pricing is less than what you’ll pay retail for non-farmed salmon anyway. Plus it comes frozen in its original fishy form, which is always a conversation starter. As I told Dylan, I’d like to see him in grad school, but this is an interesting interlude, and I hope you can help him out before the Dec. 15 deadline and enjoy some excellent salmon, too.


Yes, NewSpace will recover in the wake of tragedy

SpaceShipTwo wreckage, Oct. 31, 2014 (via BBC)

SpaceShipTwo wreckage, Oct. 31, 2014 (via BBC)

It’s only been a couple of hours since Virgin Galactic lost its SpaceShipTwo spacecraft. The names of the pilots — one dead, one clinging to life — have yet to be released. I got the initial word via Twitter, a retweet of @spacecom via Alan Stern and some others. CNN, the BBC and others soon leapt aboard and will ride the story for days. In the wake of Orbital Sciences Corp.’s International Space Station-resupplying Antares disaster just two days ago, the big follow-up question for the nation’s media will be: Will commercial space (in this case NewSpace) ever recover?


Consider:  Fifty years ago this April, a nascent Ball Aerospace saw its second satellite blow up, taking three lives with it. From the book:

The OSO B’s travels ended in a 3,000-square-foot testing facility at the Kennedy Space Center. On April 14, 1964, Ball technician Lot Gabel stepped up to adjust a plastic bag shrouding the spacecraft and the third-stage rocket—a five-foot column of bottled fury— to which it was mounted. This innocuous act, like straightening a spouse’s collar, triggered a spark of static electricity.

A design flaw caused the rocket engine to ignite. It smashed the spacecraft against the hangar’s roof and then careened about the building, spraying blazing rocket fuel and finally ramming into a corner to burn itself out. Gabel, his Ball colleague Sid Dagle, and John Fassett of NASA died of severe burns. The 1967 Apollo 1 disaster, much more notorious, was no more lethal.

They didn’t give up.

Ball would have another shot at space, replacing destroyed instruments, repairing damaged hardware, and modifying the ill-fated spacecraft’s prototype for flight. In Boulder, they worked through their mourning. The OSO 2 launched less than a year after the accident, on February 3, 1965.

Ball Aerospace is still at it.

Virgin Galactic has already shown their mettle. Three workers from Scaled Composites, which built SpaceShipOne and SpaceShipTwo, were killed in a ground-based propellant-flow test in 2007. They’ve come a long way since. They must again work through the mourning. Then they must convince the market that the roughly 1-in-50 risk of rocket shots failing, the historic norm, somehow doesn’t apply to suborbital missions (SpaceShipTwo topped out at 62 miles) or is worth the thrill. I think passengers will just have to accept a two-percent chance of death, and that most will.

Alan Stern, whose tweet clued me into all this, has felt the loss of space disasters more closely than most: his PhD experiment was aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger on that chilly Florida day in April 1986. He’s bounced back, too, and is on his way to Pluto, at least vicariously, as principal investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission.


Fresh (Baked) news on weed and the developing brain

Fresh Baked Jersey and Shoes

The jersey’s orange and the shoes are black, unless you happen to be stoned.

Abigail Sullivan Moore’s New York Times piece on a new study on the effects of marijuana and the developing brain is another arrow in the increasingly crammed quiver of evidence that weed and growing brains don’t mix. This one shows that frequent marijuana use among young people changes vital brain structures.

From the piece:

All smokers showed abnormalities in the shape, density and volume of the nucleus accumbens, which “is at the core of motivation, the core of pleasure and pain, and every decision that you make,” explained Dr. Hans Breiter, a co-author of the study and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern’s medical school.

Similar changes affected the amygdala, which is fundamental in processing emotions, memories and fear responses.

This report is only slightly less worrisome than the 2012 study the story also mentions. That one showed the IQs of frequent teen  smokers to be 8 points lower than controls by age 38.

Of interest to me was a discussion of how the sharply increased potency of today’s MJ may render older studies — which were few anyway, given marijuana’s DEA schedule 1 status with heroin, crack, meth and LSD — passe (for example with regard to megadose-triggered THC psychosis, for example when Denver resident Richard Kirk allegedly consumed “‘Karma Kandy Orange Ginger,’ a candy form of edible marijuana, and ‘Pre 98 Bubba Kush Pre-Roll,’ a prerolled joint,” before allegedly murdering his wife while she pleaded with a 9-1-1 operator back in April).

In the discussion of marijuana potency in the fourth graf, a few of the offerings of Boulder dispensary Fresh Baked are offered as examples. Note the photograph atop this post: Fresh Baked is the jersey sponsor of my Thursday night coed indoor soccer team (meaning the owner, a teammate who played college ball, sprung for them. I assume he paid cash.). We make a point not to smoke (or eat Karma Kandy Orange Ginger) before kickoff.

The Varidesk Pro Plus and the Big Black Billy Bass

The Varidesk Pro Plus in the up position

The Varidesk Pro Plus in the up position

I am an antsy dude, generally, and with catastrophic posture while seated at work here in the converted dining room. Plus the alarming, if not entirely concrete, in my estimation, health effects of long-term duff-parking. I had been casually looking into stand-up desks but had been scared off by a) the pricing, b) that I would be 100% committed, even in my laziest moments, to standing and c) the dining room table having nowhere to go.

I then casually looked into sit-stand desks, until, on a particularly antsy day, I found myself pulling the trigger on the Varidesk Pro Plus.

These cost $350, with another $50ish for shipping. They are not sold in stores. In fact, they are sold by Gemmy Industries.

These two facts were, for a period of a couple of weeks of progressively more serious investigation, not positives. This is a big mechanical thing (three feet wide, 29 inches deep), the sort of thing one generally prefers to test before leaping into for the tune of $400. The fact that Gemmy Industries was the ultimate seller (they take pains to make Varidesk seem an entirely different entity) was somewhat more disturbing. Among their other products include inflatable Hello Kitties, Mrs. Potato Head Pumpkin Push-In Kits, and the Gangnam Style Easter Bunny. To make matters worse, I learned that these are the same people who brought us the Big Mouth Billy Bass.

But this hardware looked legit, had strong reviews and had won awards. Plus these people obviously have very good relationships with Chinese manufacturers. So I dropped the four hundy.

Varidesk Pro Plus in down position

The Varidesk Pro Plus in the down position (puggle not included)

The FedEx guy, ignoring the two-person lift instructions clearly printed on the box, shouldered it to the front porch and I wrestled it in. It was packed in the highest-grade cardboard I have ever dealt with, which my eight-year-old promptly recognized and claimed for godknowswhat.

I cleared the dining room table/desk and lifted the beast up there. I didn’t weigh it post-shipping, but the shipping weight is something like 56 pounds; the cardboard, which I hefted to the basement for my daughter, was at most 10.

And so, with that 333-word lead-in, the gist: Thing is great. I mean, rock solid. The negative reviews on Varidesk tend to refer to the mere “pro” (not “plus”) models. Regardless of whether you go pro or standard, you need “plus” because “plus” means there’s a keyboard tray that is permanently affixed 3.5 inches below the keyboard/laptop stand. This raises your effective monitor height/lowers the keyboard height. Plus the whole thing feels more like a sort of semi-enclosed workstation pod/cockpit. Though this may not apply to those who haven’t worked on a cherry dining room table for seven years.

While not vivid in the marketing materials, the Varidesk adjusts to several heights on the way up. I’m 5’10″ish and have it pretty much maxxed out. Raising and lowering is simple. I have a wireline printer connected via USB and other cables and they’re not obtrusive. The free software you can take or leave. You can set it to tell you when to sit or stand (I alternate), but the calorie counter is silly (counts gross calories, i.e. not the delta between what you’d burn standing vs. sitting, which is the operative value — though there’s a calculator a bunch of websites are using and I come in at about 40 more calories an hour burned standing).

So I turned the software off. But otherwise, I’m most pleased and do recommend it. It’s a good work space when in the down position and enables solid, comfortable, de-antsifying standing-and-working when raised. Perhaps most importantly, the Varidesk is proof that the Big Mouth Billy Bass and the Gangnam Style Easter Bunny are valuable products, if only because the same engineering team that worked those mechanical designs have now applied their skills — and maybe the underlying mechanics (is Varidesk just a big, black Billy Bass in disguise?) — to a product of serious functional value.

Electricity pricing can be interesting. Really.

Solar panel installation

Our (or technically Sunrun’s) solar panels during installation in July 2010. Little did they know they would one day anchor a feature-article lead.

I’ve  done some writing for the Rocky Mountain Institute this year, which I’ve enjoyed because a) I have a ton of respect for Amory Lovins and his organization’s work (Natural Capitalism and Reinventing Fire being a couple of good examples). My latest piece, with a big assist from RMI editor Pete Bronski, posted today.

Pete called earlier this summer and said eLab, one of RMI’s many initiatives, was coming out with a report outlining a path to more rational means of pricing electricity in the United States. One’s first reaction to the idea of writing 2,000 journalistic words on electricity pricing should always be reluctance.

But within about 30 seconds on the phone I recalled that this is an important topic. It’s also a timely one, it turns out. States around the country are legislating, or considering legislating, added fees for solar and other renewable energy, which utilities say are needed because today’s century-old pricing approaches don’t reflect the system costs of solar (transmission and distribution, the need for baseload backup and so on). Solar proponents counter that they don’t reflect the benefits, either (environmental, peak-shaving and so on). So parties with very different motivations seem to agree that the system could use an overhaul, the outlines of which an RMI team sketched out.

So please spend 11 minutes reading  the story (that’s the RMI website estimate, and RMI people are pretty good with numbers).