The Most Important Thing

I am not a big fan of the idea of a bucket list. It’s definitely a good idea to have goals, and things you’re working towards, but putting it into a big list like that has the potential to cause problems. There’s a concept in the hiking and climbing world of “peak bagging”. The idea being that you just climb mountains in some group or category and check them off a list. As I recall, the community’s feelings on this are mixed. Some think it’s a fine thing to do as a challenge. Others see it as cheapening an experience of climbing and exploring nature.

I myself engaged in something similar to “peak bagging” a few summers ago with my cycling. Early in the season, I declared I was going to ride 2000 miles. The number was mostly arbitrary, but based a bit on what I had done previously, and what I felt I could do if I focused on it. In the end, I did achieve that goal. Unfortunately, after reflecting on that summer and the rides I did, I was far from satisfied. To ride that much, with the schedule I had, meant that every possible free night, weekend and good weather time slot needed to be devoted to a ride. I passed up doing other things on weekends saying, “oh, no can do, gotta ride this weekend.” The rides I was doing weren’t even that fun either. I had one ride that was a relatively straightforward perfect metric century. It was far from the most exciting ride, but I just kept doing it. Over and over. Sixty more miles on the tally each time.

The following summer, I really regretted doing that. I was proud to have ridden so much, but the cost felt too high. I wasn’t riding for the love of the sport, and the enjoyment of going places by bike, but for the miles. Instead of trying to find the highest mile rides, I started doing rides that were just fun and interesting, regardless of how many miles they were. At the end of the summer, I hadn’t ridden 2000 miles, but I did have some good memories of fun rides. I was also able to diversify the stuff I did because I didn’t feel like I had to ride all the time. It was much more relaxing.

A part of me now wants to think that of course it’s ok to do those fun rides now, I’ve already proven that I can put up big mileage numbers. Saying that isn’t really fair to me though. I know I’m a good rider. I didn’t need to put up 2000 miles to prove it. No one does. If you love the sport, then you’ll be good. It’s as simple as that. You’ll be good enough for you. Also, you never know when you might start having health problems that really limit how much you can do. This past year, I was going through (still kind of am) some things that made good sleep hard to come by. Basically, I wouldn’t know whether or not on any given Saturday I’d get enough sleep to do a real ride, so it was hard to plan things in advance. If I planned something, then didn’t get enough sleep, what was I supposed to do? Those difficulties, combined with the unpredictability of the weather meant I didn’t get nearly as many miles this summer. I didn’t even get to ride in the century ride. It was good to know that the miles aren’t the most important thing. If you’re enjoying the rides, and enjoying the sport, that’s the most important thing.

 

Privileges (Not the POSIX Kind)

Somewhere along the line I first encountered the concept of “privilege.” For the purposes of this post, privilege is defined as receiving preferential, unearned benefits simply by belonging to some group. You can go looking around the internet for these lists, and there are quite a few of them; Male privilege, heterosexual privilege, white privilege (big one), cis-gender privilege, the lists go on and on. I’ll be the very first to say that this concept of privileges is very likely true and something worth being aware of. What I won’t agree with how important being aware of privileges is. Talking to some people, you’d think they do nothing but go through their days keenly aware of all the privileges they’re missing out on. That seems like kind of a weird way to go through your daily life to me. I certainly grew up with certain privileges, like being white, but I absolutely lacked others.

My family was definitely in the bottom third of the town economically speaking. Did I spend my days focused on that? No. I did my best to be my best regardless. The times when I was forced to show my hand of being poorer than many of my schoolmates, I did what I could to give the metaphorical middle finger to the system. Oh, you wanted that paper typed up? Well, my family can’t afford a computer, so I’ll either use a goddamn 20 year old typewriter to type the paper, or I’ll hand write it in super small, super neat handwriting. I actually had teachers complain about this all the way up until high school. Too bad. I didn’t know about the concept of privilege then, but even if I did, what would it have changed? Would those teachers still want papers typed? Probably. I think I would’ve behaved the same way.

My problem with the concept of privilege is that everyone has certain privilege, and everyone lacks certain privilege. Everyone. So while it’s a nice thing to be aware of, I don’t see how it can be much of anything other than a wash in the end. It also seems very focused on outward appearances. I did my best to visually fit in with my wealthier peers as a kid, and I did a pretty good job. Ostensibly you wouldn’t be able to accurately tell about my “privilege” or lack thereof. Additionally, some of the lists of privileges are so narrow minded and themselves almost stereotypical. One of those lists is what actually spawned this post. I don’t know how generally “good” or “bad” this list is, I only know that reading it pissed me off. So if it’s actually considered a shitty list, I apologize. Also, I’m not saying that none of these things happen, I’m merely trying to point out how they’re not anywhere near as clear-cut as they seem. If anything, many of them are one-off examples of random people having sexist opinions. That’s not an example of privilege, that’s an example of asshattery, and that’s something anyone can have.

Here are a few of the examples of “Male Privilege” that really upset me:

  • You can be a careless driver and not have people blame it on your sex
    • Is this 1965 or 2014? I (and many others) assume careless drivers are just generic asshats or people from Boston.
  • Work comfortably (or walk down a public street) without the fear of sexual harassment
    • I’ve been sexually harassed. I didn’t even know what it was. No one told me I could be sexually harassed, and no one would’ve believed me if I said I was. I’ve been jeered at for any number of reasons by people when I’m just walking around. Asshattery isn’t limited to one sex.
  • Go on a date with a stranger without the fear of being raped
    • Yup. Because men never have this fear. Thanks for discounting my experience!
  • You can decide not to have children and not have your masculinity questioned
    • What? In what world? If I so much as choose not to have, or don’t desire sex, I’m shamed all to shit. I’m not a “real man”. Give me a fucking break.
  • Most political representatives share your sex, particularly the higher-ups
    • Because that really matters doesn’t it? I’d much, much rather political representatives share my socioeconomic status. Hell has a better chance of freezing over.
  • You can ask for the “person in charge” and will likely be greeted by a member of your sex
    • Who the fuck cares? I want to talk to the person in charge. Either they’re in charge and they can solve my problem or they can’t. If they can’t, they’re useless to me. Do I give a fuck that it’s a man or a woman? NO!
  • If you’re not conventionally attractive (or in shape), you don’t have to worry as much about that negatively affecting your potential
    • Jeez. Potential for what? Jobs, dates? I’m not “conventionally” attractive because of my short height. Is that right? No, but it is what it is.
  • You can go to a car dealership or mechanic and assume you’ll get a fair deal and not be taken advantage of
    • Here’s a tip for you: if you walk into a car dealer or a mechanic, you should always assume you’re going to be taken advantage of. Regardless of your sex.
  • Expressions and conventional language reflects your sex (e.g., mailman, “all men are created equal”)
    • Language is language. It’s imperfect. It evolves. There are much more important things and causes to become upset about. We should be (and I am) thankful that I speak a language that doesn’t have gendered noun classes.

This was really just a fairly quick riff on this annoying list. I’m not saying that all or any of these are bullshit, but I’ve seen so few of these first hand, or even heard about them happening. As can be seen in many of my responses, I don’t receive many of these “privileges for being male” at all, and in some cases, saying that I do is hugely dismissive of my experience. That’s why these privilege lists are so moot. The subset of people you’re describing either being denied or receiving certain privileges is so small. This list does as much to stereotype men as it does to stereotype women, and that helps no one.

I guess what I’d prefer to see instead of the idea of privilege is constructive ideas. Privilege divides. Construction unites. If someone came up to me and said, “Hey, you know, many women have a fear when they go on a date with someone new that they’ll be raped or sexually assaulted. Do you ever feel that way?”, they’re trying to include me and my experience in that discussion. It’s not about gender. It’s about a problem (rape and sexual assault) that anyone can be the victim of and that NO ONE should be the victim of. Sometimes that is in my mind. I sure as shit try to make any first date with someone new as public as possible, for both our benefits. I have other fears in that situation too. She’ll laugh at me for how I dress. She’ll expect some physical acknowledgement at the end of the date (like a hug, or kiss) or she won’t want to see me again. She’ll call me a creep (for damn near any reason).

This harkens back to a post I wrote about feminism. Great idea. Tends to be divisive. Dividing is easy, and I’m so tired of it. The ONLY way we move forward as people is to unite and see ourselves in others. You break down dividing barriers (male/female, white/non-white, heterosexual/non-heterosexual, human/Gelgamek) by focusing on the commonalities, and the common experiences, not highlighting the differences, and problems.

It’s Time to Grow Up, Kids

Well, I can’t actually believe I feel the need to take space here to write about this, but I do. I came across this article today, read it, and then held my breath to dive into the comments section. Yes, I know it’s the internet, and comment sections on the internet are like the wild west (worse?) from long ago. But this was The Guardian, a paper I like, and one that attracts generally far above average commentators as far as the internet goes. On the whole, I wasn’t disappointed. To me, gay marriage was always a non issue. I was never able to figure out a way to logically argue against it. There were a few comments though that left me head scratching. Was this person for real, or were they just doing their best to rile people up?

Marriage is a right to the extent that it relates to our freedom of association. The ability for us to form relationships with whomever we choose, be they sexual realtionships or not. We used to have laws against adultery and fornication and the like. A person was not legally allowed to form a sexual relationship with somebody they were not married to. These days, those prohibitions are gone. You can screw as much as you like, with or without a marriage certificate. You can also get married by a preacher in a private ceremony, without the need for the civil authorities to recognize it. 

The fact is that marriage has always been considered a union between a man and a woman. In olden times it also included polygamous male-female relationships. That was never accepted in this country. When our constitution was formed marriage was an understood right, but it didn’t mean to include polygamy and certainly not gay marriage. So… yes… you have the right to marry, but the definition of marriage is to marry a person of the opposite sex.

If you want to change that – amend the constitution! At the very least get 9 dumbos up on SCOTUS to rule that you are a protected class.

In order for me to maintain my sanity, I have to assume that this person is trolling. I just can’t get my mind around the arguments against it. Even if I switch into religious mode, I still can’t do it. That said, I do have a problem with all this. It’s a problem I’ve never seen raised anywhere else, so I’m going to raise it here.

I have a problem with gay marriage. I have a problem with “straight” marriage. I have a problem with the civil/legal/whatever concept of marriage. I don’t feel that the government should bestow any kinds of benefits or preferential treatment to those who chose to participate in a legal union like marriage. The reason why not is the same reason gay marriage has arisen as a “debatable” issue in the first place. If you want to get married, fine. Marry your girlfriend. Marry your boyfriend. Two men. Two women. Man and toaster. Woman and jet ski. Man and woman and Gelgamek. I do not care. But the instant the government starts offering preferential treatment or benefits (especially financial or tax benefits) to those who marry, it is obligated to provide those same benefits to ANYONE who marries ANYONE or ANYTHING else for ANY reason. It’s only fair.

It’s certainly possible that we collectively decide, hey, this is getting a bit ridiculous. Man and woman, woman and woman, man and man, we could handle that, but we can’t handle man and toaster, or woman and jet ski. If we collectively arrived at that point, that would be fine, but we would have to remove all civil benefits, laws or preferential treatment attached to the concept of marriage. This is actually my preference, and I’ll get to more on that in a second. This wouldn’t mean marriage is meaningless. If a man and woman got married in that world, they could still have a religious or secular ceremony of their choosing. All their friends and family could acknowledge the union. Really very little would change.

Why do I go beyond gay marriage and take it to such an extreme? Because today it’s gay marriage we’re fighting for, but tomorrow who knows what we’ll have to fight for. I’m going to shout out here to asexuals, and the different types of unions we form or don’t form as the case may be. I likely won’t ever get married, for a myriad of reasons, some of which are related to asexual spectrum things. Other asexuals are also aromantic, and may not form any types of unions at all. Hell, there are other regular vanilla heterosexual people who don’t want to get married either. Should we all lose out on benefits of being married? I say no.

There are so many different potential benefits marriage affords those who participate in it. See a list here. Now why shouldn’t say an aromantic person with a queerplatonic partner be allowed those same types of benefits? Because they’re not “married”? Maybe they’ve lived together for 15 years. They do everything together. They rely on each other for companionship, emotional support, financial stability, etc. How is it ok to deny them some or all of the rights that a married couple, who share all the same attributes enjoys? Hint: it’s not ok.

Do you really think with the fight we’ve had to go through, and are still bafflingly going through, regarding gay marriage that solo aromatics or queerplatonic partnerships stand a chance? Pardon the language, but fuck no! Asexuality isn’t even considered a “real” orientation (or even known). That’s the problem. That’s the point I’m trying to make. We have to make this separation between what government and civil benefits people (alone, married, gay, straight, black, blue, white or green) can get and the concept of marriage.

Naturally, the same tired tropes will be trotted out, “You’re cheapening the tradition of marriage!” Believe me, there’s nothing I could do to cheapen the tradition of marriage more than high divorce rates and Kim Kardashian haven’t already done. The thing is, you are still allowed to marry whoever you want, however you want. If that all lines up as a “traditional” marriage, that’s totally cool! I’m not going to give you a hard time about that, and neither will anyone else. The government just doesn’t get to step in and offer some kind of different treatment to you for that. As individuals, you and your spouse can apply for those benefits, but so can all other individuals. If that becomes too complex, or irks you the wrong way that two gay men are getting those same benefits (as individuals), then we can go the easy route and eliminate all those benefits completely. If you can’t play nice, you get nothing at all.

That about wraps up all I have to say about this topic, which again, I cannot believe I even feel I have to write about it. To be perfectly honest, I’m shocked that we as a country are still struggling with this. Exactly how immature, illogical, unreasonable and uncompassionate are we?

Albatross Mk-1

It occurred to me that I had spent so much work building something over the past year, and I never once mentioned it on this blog! Some time ago, in the earlier days of this blog, I mentioned all my work on a model solar power project to charge AA batteries. I also mentioned work I had been doing on thermoelectric power systems. I documented many of those experiments and circuits here.

Well late this past winter, I finally jumped on my biggest project yet: A full scale 50-watt photovoltaic power station. I had been dreaming about building something like this for a very long time. Unlike my mini charger, this one would actually be practically useful. I went through many plans and eventually settled on one and then built it. I’m hoping to add many more posts that document some of the finer details of the project, along with how I’ve tested it, what I power with it, things I’ve learned about it, etc. But before I ever get into any of that, I obviously have to show you what it looks like!

The Albatross Mk-1

The Albatross Mk-1

I’ve dubbed this thing the Albatross Mk-1. My overarching vision is to have a company that builds these smaller scale practical power systems for everybody. There are other companies out there that build things like this, but they’re expensive, and when you look over the specs, they’re performance is seriously lacking (in my opinion). So I built this beautiful contraption. There are some rough spots (duct tape where I don’t have a proper mounting bracket yet), but overall, it’s well put together and boy is it functional! Let me go over the basic components identified in the photo.

  1. Samlex PST-300-12 Pure Sine Wave Inverter: This is a really premium quality inverter. This is what takes the 12 VDC from my battery (7) and converts it into 120 VAC wall-socket-style power up to 300 watts. Because it’s pure sine wave, it’s identical to wall outlet power. It may even be cleaner. This costs a bit extra (not that much) but it means I can run anything I want with it and not have to worry about damaging expensive electronics. Modified sine wave inverters can cause problems in basically any electrical device that depends on the voltage waveform being a pure sine wave.
  2. 15-Amp DC Circuit Breaker: This was an addition I made in place of a standard fuse for the inverter. It allows up to 15 amps (I believe it actually trips around 18-20) to go to my inverter. The fact that it’s also basically a switch allows me to safely connect the inverter to the battery without any sparking. Yes, the 15 amp limit is limiting the output on my 300 watt inverter to somewhere around 180 watts, but for my applications so far, that has been amply sufficient. With some beefier cabling, the 300 watt limit could easily be reached.
  3. 12 VDC Automotive Socket: This was a recent addition. I use the system to charge things like my cell phone, or my tablet. They don’t take much power, so going through the inverter, and then transforming the 120 VAC back down to 5 VDC for the USB charge power doesn’t make sense. This socket allows me to charge devices as long as I have whatever car adapter is required.
  4. Genasun 65W MPPT Charge Controller with 5 amp LVD output: This is my favorite component. I actually opened it up when I got it to see inside. It’s so simple, but it does so, so much. Cheaper charge controllers use pulse width modulation (PWM) in order to taper the charge to the battery when it’s getting closer to full. This is fine, and works well. MPPT stands for maximum power point tracking. Basically what this means is that the controller can sense what kind of power is coming in from the panel. Am I getting a strong voltage right now? Ok, how about we drop that voltage a bit and get some extra current. This typically only happens when the panel is cooler, but it means awesome things like I can charge from my 50W panel at up to 3.5 amps. The panel is only short-circuit rated for 2.78 amps. That’s what MPPT is getting me. I love this device! It also has a 5 amp LVD (low voltage dropout) output. This is where I hooked in the 12 VDC automotive socket. The socket is dumb and will have no problem killing my battery (bad!). The LVD makes sure that if the battery gets too low, power is cut.
  5. 100 amp shunt: This is basically a very precise resistor that is used by a power meter (not pictured) to calculate the power going into and out of the battery. It’s like an odometer for the battery. The shunt itself is pretty simple. Two brass posts, connected by a piece of metal. I’ll have another post later dedicated to the power meter itself.
  6. Panel Kill Switch: I didn’t actually end up needing this as much as I thought I would. It’s just an inline switch coming from the panel going into the controller. The panel is always making power. Sometimes I need that power to stop if I’m working on the base station. The switch allows me to do that without necessarily undoing any wiring.
  7. 34 AH (24h rate) Sun-Xtender Sealed AGM Battery: This battery seems small in amp hours, but I have been so impressed with it. It’s a solid rock in my system (literally, it weighs 30 lbs). The AGM means that there’s no liquid, so it’s safe to use indoors. It may vent, but very little. At 50% DOD it will last 1000 cycles (impressive). I typically discharge only 25-30% so it’ll probably last 5 solid years.
  8. PV Cable: There’s nothing too special about this, but I did want to point it out. This is actually specially designed cable for PV applications. The idea is that this wiring needs to be able to stand up to wild temperature swings (baking in the sun vs. freezing at night) and not fail. I can absolutely attest to this. There were times when the panel and cabling that was outside were literally frozen solid in ice. This summer? They look totally fine, and they bake in the sun. Worth the money (~1$/foot).

A, B, and C are just pointing to some 4-amp quick blow fuses. These fuses serve two purposes. First, they’re there to make sure that the line in question never has more than 4 amps on it. The panel can’t even do this, so that shouldn’t be a problem, but it’s a safety thing. Second, and more importantly, the fuses are there in case two wires coming from the battery are accidentally short circuited. The battery can easily dump dozens or hundreds of amps in mere seconds. These fuses will easily prevent that from happening.

Believe it or not, in all this, I’ve only barely scratched the surface of this system. You’ll notice I didn’t even picture the power meter or panel itself. Those two things are certainly worth posts of their own, and will be soon to follow. I hope you enjoyed this and maybe got some ideas for yourself if you’re building something like this!

How I Experience Mangoes

When I first identified as asexual, I struggled with lots of different things. Suddenly I was looking critically at my feelings without the social contexts in which I’d viewed them in the past. Deep down, it was like a sudden ‘snap’. I knew this was me, but at the surface, there was so much turbulence. One of the things that’s helped to calm some of that turbulence is thinking about how I experience asexuality, rather than asking if I experience asexuality. This was a very useful and helpful shift in my thinking perspective, so I wanted to share it (and specifically my personal experiences and thoughts) so that others might be able to shift their thinking as well.

You can read all the definitions about this stuff (as I did) until the cows come home. You can read other people’s experiences (as I did) until there’s peace on earth. After all that though, you’ll still be left wondering, “am I understanding that definition right?” or, “my experience only matches up to this person’s experience about 86%. Is that enough?” This is all thinking in the mode of do I experience it, rather than how I experience it.

Admittedly, if you’re starting from square zero, you’re going to have to do some of that do mode thinking. By all means, read definitions, read articles, read first-hand experiences, talk to people on forums, etc. That should get you facing in the right direction to figure yourself out. It honestly took me a while to find that one thing that caused my ‘snap’. If you’re curious, it was this (of all things). I don’t know what it will be for you. It might be the first thing, or the hundredth thing. Once I had my ‘snap’ moment, more and more things started to make sense and I started understanding other articles and definitions more clearly.

Even though I had hit that deep down ‘snap’ moment, I still felt unconvinced. Maybe this is just my personality, but I felt like I needed more. This was a HUGE shift in my life. Questioning my sexuality? That wasn’t something I did. I never even thought about it. I never felt like a sexual person (#youmightbeasexualif #oblivious). I guess I wanted to be absolutely sure (pro tip: you can never be absolutely sure about shit like this).

That whole endeavor was a losing proposition. Now, I think about how I experience asexuality. That’s much easier. I experience it every day, all the time, because it’s me. What does it mean?

  • For me, it means I don’t feel things in a sexual context. I can objectively recognize them (yup, that girl is what people consider hot, those breasts appear well proportioned, etc), but I don’t feel those things. Feeling here is not arousal, though it could be. I suspect you’d know it if you felt it. Gut instinct perhaps?
  • I don’t form (or attempt to form in my case) relationships based on sexual factors. Feeling that someone is “hot” isn’t something that happens for me, so it’s not part of the factors involved in forming that relationship. If I had to place the tag of “sexual attraction” on something it would be this. Feeling in that sexual context about someone and being attracted to them on that basis. Things that are important to me? She looks cute. To me this means “different” (hard to describe). I’ve noticed that anything different will do. Odd hair color, more androgynous. Lots of things like that. Outside of looks, there’s just a hand-wavy kind of mental “connection” where we’re on the same page. This is harder to judge, and I’ve misjudged it horribly in the past.
  • As I’ve said many times, as far as the physical act of sex is concerned, I’m curious about it. There are certainly big chunks that are just totally off the table for me, but I’m still curious about the major things. I’d definitely balk at a relationship with another asexual if sex wasn’t going to be involved at all, because I feel like this curiosity has to be satiated. That said, if she were willing to satisfy that curiosity (perhaps on both our parts?), that would probably be approaching my ideal relationship 🙂
  • When I was younger, I experienced a number of “punctuated equilibrium” moments where I suddenly became aware of things friends and other people my age were doing that was just so far beyond my experience at that time, I didn’t know what to do with it. I felt pretty horrible about it. Surprisingly, even to this day I still experience those “punctuated equilibrium” moments from time to time.
  • “Normal”, “straight” porn does jack shit for me. For the longest time, I saw other asexual people saying things like this, and I didn’t get it. Then I realized that I’d always completely avoided that kind of porn. I don’t even remember the last time I saw it. It’s definitely the bulk of the porn out there though, and apparently what most straight people are going for.
  • Kind of a funny one, but I’ve never understood the problem with women going topless. I just don’t get boobs. I’ve never touched a boob, and I don’t really care if I never do. They’re utilitarian, a persistent example of sexual dimorphism, and honestly, they look annoying. I’m glad I don’t have boobs. Apparently, lots of straight guys (and gay women) really dig ’em.
  • In college, whenever I saw some girls out sunbathing in the courtyard or on the green, my first thought wasn’t “omg, they are so hot”, my thought was more like, “man, I wish I had the confidence to lie out in the sun like that, it looks comfortable.”
  • I have “weird” things that make me interested in people. As I said before, I do have a type of “cute” that can do it for me, but there are other things that would just make a person seem awesome to me (especially from a relationship perspective). One of these things was if I ever saw a young woman driving a Porsche 944. I don’t know what it is, but I see a lot of those around, but it’s always some guy driving them. Why not some young woman? I would so want to meet her and chat! I told my friend about this and she scoffed saying it was “too specific” and had no bearing on a relationship anyway. Well, for me it does, and it would rank far higher than “nice boobs” or a “hot body”.

This isn’t meant to be a list for you to relate to and say, “oh I get all of that, maybe I’m asexual”. I mean if that does happen for you, cool, but if not, it doesn’t really mean anything. These are simply descriptions of how I personally experience asexuality. They’re probably pretty unique and specific (just like my experience of life). My hope is that by making this list, maybe you will start to think about the “how I experience” rather than the “do I experience”. Hopefully, that will allow you to build a better understanding of yourself, and what being asexual (or not) means to you!