27 March 2014

new blog!

For anyone who finds this, I am now writing (albeit not regularly) about bikes & other stuff at my own domain, dougmayer.co/blog. Cheers!

23 September 2013

ramblings on the origins of religion

So I'm a committed atheistic humanist, have been for 8 years. But in the last year I've lost my taste for strict scientific materialism and begun to acknowledge, ponder, and embrace'mystery' and it's many meanings. Terrence McKenna pointed out that scientific materialists of ~200 years ago would have scoffed at the idea of electromagnetic fields as alchemical magick mumbo jumbo.

Then I watched The Road this weekend. BRUTAL nuclear winter collapse narrative where not only human social systems fail, but all ecosystems fail too. Slavery and cannibalism become the norm for the last humans. There is terse discussion of god (Father: "If the boy is an angel, then there is a god". Old man: "There is no god, and we are his prophets".) and Good Guys vs. Bad Guys.

And I got to thinking, what if one of the better-natured intentional purposes of religion was to ensure there would be Good Guys in a fairly brutal ancient world with times of scarce resources and without social/industrial protections? By placing the fear of god in people from a young age, you bind some of them to a spiritual/social movement, and there's less likely to be the kind of micro-tribal fracturing that you see even today in disaster situations. Admittedly works better in theory than practice.

It's important to point out that many ancient religions had a psychedelic plant ceremony component to them, so you have to assume that many or most of the adults in a community have had a direct experience with the divine and had no education with which to provide scientific context. </rambling> </thinking too much>

29 August 2013

reflection & quieting the overmind

Besides mountain biking, my favorite kind of riding as of late has been short road rides with my singlespeed cyclocross bike, fat slick tires, camera strapped to my belt, and Strava running on my phone to collect location data. I'll usually go pretty slow, stop and take lots of photos, and take every dirt or gravel road I find, especially if it's a dead end. I call them 'funsploration' rides, because it's usually places I haven't ridden before and the point is not training, but rather have fun and indulging my other favorite hobby: photography.

While out on a funsploration ride on a singlespeed bicycle, there's ample opportunity to dig into your thoughts and get lost in nostalgia. For me, summer in Central New York (I used to call it 'Upstate') brings me back to my childhood when my family would drive up from the Hudson Valley to the Catskills every other weekend to spend time with my grandparents who would snowbird between New York and Hawaii (they retired well, huh?). Once each summer, my parents would leave my brother Ian and I up there for a full week and our grandparents would take us around the countryside to Cooperstown for the Baseball Hall of Fame, Blenheim-Gilboa hydroelectric dam, mini-golf, and lots of historical houses and places that have faded from memory. At home we would cook pizza and french bread, go swimming, play chess, checkers & rummy, sing songs (my grandmother had a beautiful Joan Baez-esque voice), rent silly/classic movies on VHS, and just romp around in the middle of nowhere. It was idyllic, formative.

When it got harder for my grandpa to get around, they stopped making their annual trip across the ocean continent, around 2006. They sold their house in 2007 and I haven't been back in that area since. My brother & I spent our last week with them in Honolulu in 2008; they lived full-time in Hawaii for the next few years and both passed away in 2010 within months of each other.

Back to riding. As my mind drifted into all these memories of summers in Upstate New York, all the unfamiliar green country, I was overwhelmed with feelings of grief, joy, love, and appreciation for the gifts my grandparents gave me, the skills and values they instilled in me that I try to uphold today. Especially from my grandmother who, in a subtle way, radicalized me with a passion for universal love, dignity, and justice for all people from a young age. And I burst into tears. When this happens, I try to shift any feelings sadness to gratefulness -not everyone gets to have the relationship I had with my grandparents - but the power of the emotion is the same. It feels good to cry, to memorialize them in a small way in my heart.

The point of all this is that riding bicycles can be both a means to a destination and an end in itself. It is how I practice something approximating meditation. It allows the waking, problem-solving 'overmind' to quiet and allows the innate, emotional 'innermind' time and space to express itself. The value of this self-reflection is incalculable, and I am so very grateful to have found it.

21 March 2012

Guest professor Doug Hollinger visits Appropriate Technology for the Developing World

SUNY-ESF and the ERE department recently welcomed Doug Hollinger to a special session of ERE 596 Appropriate Technologies for the Developing World. Hollinger is a science teacher at Pavillion High School in the Genessee Valley of New York and founder of Global Youth Service Team, a non-profit organization that brings basic sanitation and renewable energy technology to refugees in the Myanmar-Thailand border region. Refugees in this area have fled ethnic and political violence in Myanmar, and while tolerated in Thailand, the conditions in the refugee camps are dismal. Access to medical care, clean water, and proper nourishment are scarce and as a result disease and malnourishment are rampant. Hollinger's passion for education and the life-saving power of engineering technology were evident as he guided students through the theory and construction of a pump and water purifier using materials readily procured from hardware stores all over the world.

Anna cutting PVC for the hydraulic ram pump

During the Saturday building session, Hollinger took the same approach with the ERE students as he does when he works with refugees in Thailand and with the young volunteers he brings along. That is, materials and design drawings are provided and people are allowed to work toward a final product with oversight and instruction provided when necessary. In this way, the people that ultimately need to operate and maintain the devices gain an intimate knowledge of how they work, their expected performance, and their limitations.

Applying PVC cement

Through a generous donation from the ERE department, materials were purchased for two groups to independently build a hydraulic ram pump and an ultraviolet (UV) light water purifier. A hydraulic ram pump uses energy from a river or stream to transport a smaller amount of water up a grade to the point of use. Once in a convenient location, the water still needs to be treated for harmful pathogens. This is done with the UV purifier. Consisting of a UV bulb housed inside a PVC pipe with influent and effluent connectors, the purifier is mounted to the underside of a simple table with a place for a bucket of untreated influent water on top.

Completed hydraulic ram pump!

Hollinger will be invited to return to SUNY-ESF in April to help students finish building the clean water machine with a biosand filter to remove coarse solids from water before UV treatment and a photovoltaic (PV) solar array to power the UV bulb. The end product will be a powerful, fully functional demonstration of the amazing things one can do with limited resources and basic engineering concepts. The experience has been terrifically rewarding and, as many students are involved with the SUNY-ESF chapter of Engineers Without Borders, will be a tremendous source of experience for when students are tasked with bringing clean water to rural populations around the world.

Working on the UV purifier

Many thanks go to Doug Hollinger for sharing his time, expertise, and passion for bringing life-saving appropriate technology to the developing world. Thanks also to Dr. Ted Endreny, the ERE department, and the students of ERE 596 (especially TJ Decker!) for a wonderful event.

Completed UV purification tube

22 December 2011

the passion of Pfc. Bradley Manning

Regarding this article in the New York Times about Pfc. Bradley Manning's hearing in the wikileaks case.

I'm NOT saying that doing what he is accused of was right or legal, but:

a) has anyone questioned the wisdom of giving access to such a large cache of sensitive classified documents to 21 year old Pfcs? Is this necessary for the smooth operation of our military? Young, stupid, and too much responsibility probably isn't a valid legal defense, but isn't that the case here?

b) I'm not aware of any evidence that suggests that the information he leaked (his own lawyers aren't arguing that he didn't do it) caused harm to American soldiers or confidants (full disclosure: I also haven't looked. Just assuming it would be more widely reported if evidence existed). Sure, it has weakened our credibility, but it was the incredible actions of the military that Manning was trying to expose in the first place.

c) is seeking life in prison an appropriate punishment for the alleged crime? We all do dumb, angsty, poorly thought-out shit when we're 21. In my substantially ill-informed and admittedly naive opinion, I don't think he meant to bring harm to anyone. I think he wanted to bring attention to what he saw as grave injustices and felt the official channels were ineffective or too dangerous to use. That said, it doesn't appear that he or wikileaks made any attempt to filter the information made public. There is onus on the whistle blower that blowing said whistle doesn't put anyone else in danger.

My point is that I think Bradley Manning's alleged actions exposed flaws in the way the military handles and distributes information. In addition, he may have exposed grave injustices that would have gone unnoticed otherwise. In the end, military intelligence will have closed a major security hole for relatively little harm done.

The military (and any arm of the government) will always be at odds against transparency, especially when security of citizens and soldiers is at stake. Also, in war, there are always going to be morally ambiguous actions. However, if no reliable official channels are available for perceived injustice to be reported, rash actions like Manning's have to be expected. A 'teachable moment' if there ever was one in the history of military intelligence.

*Qualifications: I'm not well-versed in history, especially in military matters. I'm just a dumb engineer who reads newspapers and has an interest in justice and free speech. Also, opinions are like assholes...

22 October 2011

25 worst cities to live? hardly!

the daily beast ran this article that identifies the 25 worst cities in america to be young. normally, i like the stuff i read on DB, but in this case, i couldn't disagree more.

alley cat

i live in syracuse, ny (rochester's little brother city) which has a reputation for being dirty, dangerous, boring, and cold. i'm glad i didn't listen to the naysayers (well, it is cold). i couldn't disagree more with some of picks on that list. most of them have awesome bike communities (there's big bike polo tournaments in at least 12 of them), arts communities, activist communities, zines, music, urban agriculture, restaurants, etc. whether a city is a 'good' or 'bad' place to live depends on way more than job data, especially for young people.

the rusty doves at kellish farms

if the occupy movement has shown us anything, it's that our generation of < 30-somethings is more involved, more creative, more ambitious, and more organized than any since the 60s. even if the 1% continues to consolidate wealth and increase the ranks of the poor, i'm convinced we can rely on each other for a better quality of life. good things don't come without struggle.


link was found via wxn & mlkn from tampa, fl.

10 October 2011

Syracuse: the new Austin?

Further to my last post, I was having a discussion with a faculty member at ESF who has an interesting CV. Upon graduating from University of Texas at Austin in the early 1990s with an undergraduate degree in anthropology, he lived the slacker life for a while and worked at a food co-op in Austin for ~five years, played in bands, went to art shows, and just enjoyed being young. While I feel like I rushed into the professional world, I appreciate that lifestyle and have been trying to be as much of a slacker as can be lately. Making up for lost time and such.

Anyway, we got to talking about the neighborhoods we live in (he's in Westcott, I'm in the Near West Side) and he said that, in his opinion, Syracuse is like Austin in the '90s. I was skeptical at first, but I think he has a point. I've been to Austin, once, briefly. It's a really chill city (and my wonderfully goofy friend Andy lives there). Austin has become 'cool' in the zeitgeist of the young. There seems to be a pipeline of hipster retirees moving there from Brooklyn and San Francisco all the time. In contrast, Syracuse is decidedly not a 'cool' place to live. It's really small, there aren't very many cool caf├ęs or bars, only a handful of galleries, almost no bike infrastructure, and we're only beginning to gentrify our poorer neighborhoods (tongue firmly in cheek).

All of these are reasons I love Syracuse. There are struggles yet to overcome, problems to solve, history to write. I know this guy agrees with me.

Syracuse is still funky. There's lots of small businesses, small-scale specialty manufacturing, and if there's a niche unfilled, you can, with relative ease, just do it yourself (see Strong Hearts, mello velo, etc.). There's always been a tiny arts community that struggles to get by and get seen and as a result, has to be extra-creative both in their medium of choice and in funding their projects and showings. This is the birthplace of the vegan+straight edge+hardcore scene with the band Earth Crisis. There is a small but dedicated community of cyclists that assert their rights in traffic every day. Most importantly, there are architects, city planners, engineers, and students of all kinds investing a lot of time and thought into making Syracuse a great place to live.

Maybe, with enough time and investment, Syracuse will become hip and gentrified like a small Austin (but isn't that Ithaca?). Maybe graduates from SU will want to stay, build a career, and buy a house in the city. From my perspective, that wouldn't be so bad. I'd like to think someone would have thought of ways to empower and employ the people that have lived here their whole lives so as not to be priced out of their hometown.

I won't hold my breath waiting. I will fill my lungs with our clean and clear CNY air, drink our copious Great Lakes Basin water, and take time to be thankful that I found a place I'm happy to call home.