The 4 keys to successful freelancing

I was talking to my partner about blog ideas, and she suggested this one. So -- as an unsuccessful freelancer -- here are the 4 keys to successful freelancing:

1. Understanding your market

"Market" here meaning "editor" -- as a freelancer, you're not selling your work to an audience, you're selling your work to an administrator. That means you kinda have to write badly in certain important ways. Your job is to write the kind of blandly generic work that a boss-type-person is going to look at and say "I'm definitely not going to get called into an office and spoken to if I publish this."

2. Appropriate workplace clothes

It's a very common piece of advice that if you want to get work done from home, you should get dressed as if you're going into the office. I recommend having a pair of pants that you feel professional in. Wear them every day. Never wash them. These are your lucky pants.

3. Social media

As a writing professional in the age of social media, you are expected to do an impossible thing. That impossible thing is to (a.) not be constantly distracted by social media while working, and (b.) maintain a strong social media presence. You can't do this. You still have to try. You will be blamed for the consequences of your inevitable failure.

4. No matter what, never spend more than 20 minutes on a job

Your work isn't going to pay very well. If you want to make rent, you're going to need to produce it at an exceptional volume, in your time between your shifts at Starbucks, where you will also have to work to make ends meet. (Remember to smile!) To do this, avoid putting a reasonable, thoughtful amount of time into your work. Instead, crank it out like a missing Londoner in Mrs. Lovett's beef grinder. Times are hard, do what you must to survive.

Torque and rapidograph pens

There are a ton of things I don't know. I mean, not that that should surprise anybody, but some days it feels like I've got a pretty good baseline in most things, and some days I feel like I've walked into a wall of shit-I've-got-no-clue-about.

Today in my Appropriate Technology in the World class, I ran into one of those walls in engineering. 

Engineering is a category of learning I've sort of passively-actively avoided learning anything about for most of my life. It kind of proactively doesn't interest me. Or, didn't. I feel like I've mostly gotten over that now, but that still leaves me in a position where, unlike most other things I attempt, I don't have a decade or so of soaked up bits of trivia that I can quickly lattice together into a basic understanding of what I'm doing.

I don't know what torque is. I know it's a force involved in gear boxes, and has something to do with rotation, but beyond that? No clue. And it's really important that I understand torque by Thursday.

I also found out today about rapidograph pens -- a type of drafting pen that used to be very popular before computer drafting was a thing. They produce incredibly even and precise lines, and the nicer ones actually have sapphire tips so that they write without wearing down on very hard materials.

The latter is interesting to me because it's a curiosity in a category of my interest -- pens -- that I probably wouldn't have ever run into if I weren't in a class that put me in a position to explore engineering.

I feel like I'm rambling a bit. I'm going to go to sleep now, and in the morning I'm going to google torque. I promise.

Solarpunk Press episode 1

The first issue of Solarpunk Press came out today -- it went very smoothly and I'm very excited. 

The story we released today is "Riley Marigold and the Winged Lizards of Tel Aviv," by Kayla Bashe. It's available online for free in text form and audio.

Here's the text

Here's the podcast

Potatoes and molases

Actually brown sugar. But w/e. I had mashed potatoes for dinner tonight, and since we had brown sugar, and I was curious as a consequence of that one song from Over the Garden Wall, I added it.

It is delicious. Just, like, heads up.

If anybody's tried it with actual molases lemme know, I want to know how it went. 

Materializations of effort

The early access rewards for Solarpunk Press's Patreon supporters go out tomorrow -- this is the edge of the very long period of time in which I've been telling people I've been doing a cool thing, and it's about to be the time when I get to actually show people the cool thing. Granted, it's a limited pool of people who have access right now, but still: this is exciting.

Altogether, though, this was a really bad time to get sick. I didn't blog yesterday because by the time I got back to my room at the end of the night I collapsed onto my dorm room floor, arms wrapped around an empty bucket, for reasons.

I didn't go to my classes today, and broadly speaking I did take it easy. But I also had to do my part of the recordings for the podcast -- so, early listeners, sorry for the congested sound of the first episode's intro and outro. (The actual story sounds incredible; Faith and Nicole did an amazing job and I couldn't be prouder to be starting out Solarpunk Press with such a great story, so well performed.) There's a chance I'll re-record before the free and open release on Monday and swap out my crummy recordings for some good ones.


I've been sick for a couple days now. I was really hoping this was just going to go away, or that I wouldn't get sick at all while I was here. but I should reasonably have anticipated it: living in close quarters with a few thousand people most of whom probably don't have awesome self-care routines is not the optimal arrangement of circumstances for avoiding illness. 

It started with a sore throat -- at this point now dizziness and headaches are regular components, plus congestion. 

If anyone has any tips on getting over a cold quickly, send them my way. Please.

Park design for Hampshire's lawn

My most recent assignment for Green Cities was to design and illustrate a plan for a new green space, taking up a large rectangular segment of land at the front of the campus. Currently it's a wildflower field -- it was recently mowed but usually it's overgrown with local plants.

After the images is my essay explaining the park, cut and edited for presenting as a blog post.

 I really like the field as it exists, and wanted to leave a lot of room for natural growth. So, I started by putting bridges over the space, where people could go and stand out over the field, which would be unnavigably thickly grown.

I felt like that wasn’t interesting enough, though. The design I had felt like it could be a site of complex exploration and mystery, but the actual paths available didn’t actually sustain that feeling. So I added paths on the ground.

I also decided to attempt to plan where the water in the space would flow. Ideally I’d like to bring in a part of a nearby river’s flow and run it under the tower at the front of the space, where I’d also add a micro hydro power plant, then directing the water back out to the Connecticut River, probably by way of the Fort River, but I couldn’t quickly find sufficiently detailed water maps of the area so I gave up on that for the purposes of this design.

For accessibility, I made sure that there are no areas that don’t have at least one paved road leading to them, and each platform has at least one bridge leading to it that’s roughly set up to accommodate the ramp incline standard of 1 inch rise per 12 inches run, though if I were actually planning this for construction I’d spend a lot more time making sure I got that right. There would also be an elevator in the algae tower, as well as stairs.

Each of the platforms is large enough to accommodate a whole class at a time. The largest, highest platform, on top of the algae tower, contains an amphitheater and a garden.

The garden would be planted and maintained so that the canopy it creates is roughly level with the top of the amphitheater, as if the treetops were the surface of a lake. 

The algae tower is a two-story tall algae-powered light. Other smaller lights throughout the park will also be algae powered. Inside the tower would be an aquaponics lab and classroom, and, if the river works, a hydro electric plant that also provides power to the college.

I hope that the partial ceiling of the bridges, tall grass and large plants on the edges of the paths, student art, and the watery green light of the lamps, makes people wandering the lower park feel like they’re in a bottle universe that’s even further separate from the world than the college is, and is definitely profoundly separate from the bridges above: Ideally I want them to feel like two different parks.

(In writing it’s occurring to me that I could strongly accentuate this effect by building frames around the entryways to the lower park that form thresholds to entry -- you couldn’t go around them because of the overgrown grass, so they might create a very mystical feeling, and give students the opportunity to tangibly leave their external sense of stress outside the park as they pass into it.)

The bridges, on the other hand, would be designed to give a very strong sense of presence in the Hampshire campus and its surroundings. If the lower park is meant to be like stepping out of the map, then the upper is meant to be like stepping up to look at it. 

If possible, they’d be accoustically designed to direct sound well within themselves, but not out; people standing on the ground or on another disc shouldn’t be able to clearly hear two people speaking to each other at a normal volume on another disc. This would be good for classes held on the discs, and for privacy, and to preserve the sense of otherworldliness on the ground.

Solarpunk: an introduction: a pamphlet; redux

I turned in a copy of my solarpunk pamphlet in the Aesthetics of Social Engagement today, and got a whole ton of feedback, which I will now be incorporating into a second draft.

First of all, apparently it reads less like an introduction than a manifesto. After hearing and responding to several classmates' and the professor's thoughts, I've decided that it may be worth dialing back the amount of politics that are laid out in any substantial detail in the pamphlet, making room for (a.) illustrations, (b.) a little more about the aesthetics and how people can participate, and (c.) a sense of welcomeness that is kind of annihilated by the wall of political text currently in the pamphlet.

I think I'm going to split off a lot of the extra material onto the web, maybe work with Faith on a "New to Solarpunk" hub on the Solarpunk Press website. 

Easy and affordable* laser cutter

*it's not actually affordable, like, for me. Why do even the cheap awesome things have to be so expensive?

The Glowforge is a laser cutter, currently pre-orderable at a price of $2000, that is designed to be, like, absurdly easy to use. You can literally just draw on a material and tell the laser to cut along your lines, and it does. You can make the schematics in loads of different programs, not just the extremely difficult to learn and use programs associated with laser cutters of the past.

It mainly works via cloud service: the very difficult computation is done off-site by a supercomputer. 

I want this, and a 3D printer, and all of the other cool things that are coming out this decade. I'm super looking forward to the hypothetical version of the future in which I have the disposable income to buy awesome toys like this.

The end of obnoxious restaurant knock-offs of Happy Birthday

In a ruling on a court case that's been going on for two years, Rupa Maria v Warner/Chappel Music, the copyright on the Happy Birthday song has been struck down; Happy Birthday is now legally in the public domain.

XKCD celebrated appropriately.

Solarpunk Press update and also forgot to do work

I just realized it's 10 of midnight and I haven't blogged yet.

The first issue of Solarpunk Press's print edition is nearly finished! I worked on it a bunch today. I'd love to say that's what I was doing just now when I forgot to do my blog post, but it wasn't that. I'm playing minecraft.

I have actually gotten a ton of stuff done, today and in the past few days. But as of the last two hours? Nope, just Minecraft.

Solarpunk: An introduction: A pamphlet

I've been telling a lot of people about solarpunk since I got to Hampshire, so I decided, to make it a little easier (and also a little bit as homework for the Aesthetics of  Social Engagement) to make a pamphlet that hits all the major points that I often don't have the energy or verbal dexterity to fully articulate.

Here it is -- printed out double-sided, it can be folded into quarters and form a very neat, small, storable and distributable object. 

Frustrating technology

so I was gonna show y'all a cool graph I made yesterday, but my computer is being unconscionably terrible rn and it's 10 minutes to midnight. I'm writing this on my phone right now.

I definitely should have blogged earlier. I need to figure out how to work blogging into my schedule better while I'm here.

Sorry for the no-content.  

Idea Channel: Trigger Warnings

The new "Idea Channel" is about trigger warnings in college curricula, and I'm really fond of it. I'm glad (not surprised) that Mike is on the side of trigger warnings as enabling discussion, not stifling it.

Particularly, I'm glad he addressed the point about exposure therapy being a specific, complex, highly controlled and very painful psychological process undergone with the guidance of professional mental health workers, not just "throw it at 'em, they'll feel better after." The reality is that being unexpectedly exposed to a trigger is likely to make the trauma worse -- it reinforces the brain's habitual response that the trigger is connected to heightened, painful emotional states. Being able to prepare for this by way of trigger warnings, and make informed decisions about what one can and can't handle, is actually much more compatible with exposure therapy than refusing to give warnings would be.

And I love his point at the end. It's a really good video altogether.

Tons and tons of homework

I've had more homework in the first week at Hampshire than I think I ever had by finals at NECC. I haven't had more than two of any of my classes, and already I'm about a week away from the deadline to build a functioning stove that can cook tortillas competitively against my classmates. (To be fair I have a partner for that one.)

It's not bad, though. I don't feel overwhelmed. Accelerated, but not overwhelmed. I definitely think I couldn't have done this if I were at home, but I think that this might be a big part of why they want Hampshire students to live on campus by default -- being immersed in this environment can make it a lot easier to keep up with the pace of the work. Someone a lot better at getting things done than me might be fine, but for me the structure and environment have made a huge difference.

Anyway, just finished an essay, a worksheet, another essay, and sent some important emails. Now I'm going to finish drawing an interpretive map of that museum I talked about yesterday.

New favorite Van Gogh

I went to the Clark Art Institute yesterday with my Green Cities class, to see the Van Gogh exhibit and explore the grounds. It was extremely crowded, because it was the last day of the exhibit, and that was frustrating. I learned an important thing about myself: as far as I'm concerned, it's not worth the incredibly moving experience of seeing amazing art in person to then deal with the whiplash of frustration when someone walks directly in front of that art and plants themselves in the way to get a closer look at a different fucking painting.

Still, I'm pretty excited to have discovered a new favorite Van Gogh painting, one I'd never seen before: Pine Trees at Sunset. I've attached a picture here, but another discovery I made in the context of this trip is that internet pictures of Van Gogh pieces are categorically untrustworthy. None of them capture just how blue the trees were, but apparently one of the most common images of this painting is one in which they're, like, color-corrected to yellow. The sky is all a kind of brown-orange, too. It's awful. I didn't attach that one.

(On reflection, I wonder if those were accurate pictures taken of the painting before a restoration at some point. Either way, the blue trees in the real painting are beautiful, and the brown/yellow trees in that image are boring and sad.)

This painting is normally in the Netherlands, so I will probably never get another chance to spend time in a room with it, which is a shame because it nearly brought me to tears and I would love to see it without visual obstructions or auditory gunk (which is what I'm calling the non-quiet conversations I overheard about how Van Gogh's work isn't really any good if you get close enough to see all the brushstrokes).

Yesterday was a strange mix of incredible and frustrating experiences. I'm really glad I went; I just wish that basically no one else had had the same idea that day.

Moon emoji

So apparently a bunch of astronauts just re-entered the atmosphere. Or left it. I'm not sure. About six months ago I programmed my partner's If This Then That account to text her the words "Moon emoji" every time one (or maybe both) of those things happened. We can't remember which. She just got the alert three times in a row, so either (a.) three astronauts just came home, (b.) three astronauts just launched out of the atmosphere, or (c.) some combination of astronauts just passed the barrier of the atmosphere and there has been a net change of +/- 1 astronaut in space.

So, in conclusion, the number of people in space right now just changed by either one or three. Most likely three.

reflections on my bedroom

I'm slightly unsettled by how at-home I feel in my room right now. 

It's a dorm room. It's about 80 square feet. The only illumination is my laptop, sitting on my bed, and from where I'm laying I can see the vague outline of my desk, covered in neat piles of stuff, the laundry basket filled with clothes just to the side of that, the window with a small window fan in it, the wooden rod with all my jackets hanging from it. 

This space is very small, but it's not the smallest space I've ever lived in. I'm in a mod with 5 other people but it's not the most densely crowded home I've ever lived in. 

And, vitally, this place is entirely under my power.

I mean, I'm sure there are plenty of things I'm not allowed to do -- throw out the bed, dismantle the fire alarm, remove the screen from the window -- but there's nothing on that list that's stuff I'd want to do, anyway.

Nobody else's stuff is in here. I came in and the room was bare. Every surface and drawer was just waiting for me to fill it with the things I wanted to be there. There's nothing in this room anyone else can reasonably expect access to. There's nothing that's taking up space that I don't want here, and nothing that I couldn't get rid of if I wanted to.

To be honest the biggest take-away I'm getting from this living experience so far is that I'd probably be really comfortable in a studio apartment. Which is good, because as my program of study gets more and more esoteric and based in less and less things-people-get-paid-for, it's becoming more and more likely that I'll have to be comfortable living in a pretty small space for a very long time.