20221004 Incoming

Having discovered that all the upcoming gigs for De Staat are sold out, yesterday evening I had a look at the agenda for Son Mieux, another Dutch band I’ve been enjoying lately. Turns out all of their gigs in NL are sold out for the rest of the year as well, but they’re playing 013 in Tilburg in April 2023, so I’ve snagged a ticket for that date.

I’ve also got tickets to see Maggie Rogers in Melkweg in November, and Meute in Paradiso in December. Circumstances permitting, of course.

20221002 Scoot over

Today we spent some time rearranging the last “big” things from the old kitchen. We extracted the built-in fridge from its mountings and put it in the cupboard under the stairs. We moved the freezer and microwave out into the living room. We moved around the furniture in the living room to make space for this, and to make sure that the builders have enough room to work.

I also spent some time reviewing our energy situation. Two years ago we were paying about €0.22 per kWh, and €0.79 per cubic meter of gas. We’re currently with Eneco and the upcoming price increase will put that up to €0.95 per kWH, and €3.40 per cubic meter of gas. We have 20 solar panels on our roof, so that buffers us against these increases a bit. It looks like prices will have a cap on average use from 1 November, but if a household goes above that average, the energy companies can charge whatever rate they like.

The average annual household gas usage is proposed to be 1200 cubic meters per year. Over the last three years, we’ve used on average 1470 cubic meters per year. The new kitchen is going to be all-electric (induction stove!), so we’ll knock a small percentage off that. We can take it down further by being more mindful with the thermostat. Once we’re done with the kitchen we might take a look at replacing the glass around the house with high-efficiency double glazing, and maybe a hybrid heat pump boiler system.

Music: I’ve recently discovered Dutch band De Staat, just in time to find all their upcoming gigs in NL sold out. I’m behind the curve. (I think their new Red, Yellow, Blue project and calling their tour “Who’s Afraid of De Staat” might be a shout out to Barnett Newman’s work Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III. I should get myself back to the Stedelijk Museum.)

20221001 Drapaki

It’s Pictober!

I did this back in 2018 while I was on leave from work to recover from burnout. Four years ago. A lot has changed since then. Maybe I’ll muse on that, maybe I won’t. We’ll see.

I’m just back from another trip to Scotland, which came hot on the heels of a trip to New York. New York was for work, Scotland was for family and work. Mum & dad both had Covid, and mum was briefly in the hospital. I went across as she got home, so that I could be an extra pair of hands around the house while they were still recovering. There was a risk to staying in the same house as two people with known infections, but I managed to avoid catching it again myself. I tested myself every day while I was there, and will continue for a few days more now I’m back home. So far, all negative. Residual immunity from my own illness in July? Were they no longer infectious after their first week? Don’t know. More boosters for under-60s in NL are coming later in the autumn.

In all, I’ve been away for most of the last three weeks: one week in NY/NJ, back home for a few days, then over in Scotland for a week and half. (I spent Wednesday and Friday this week in the new FanDuel office on Freer Street, and Monday in the Clockwise space in Glasgow. The new office is very fancy.) The travel was all very worthwhile, but I do feel somewhat adrift. Glad to be home, although it won’t necessarily be all restful: over the next few weeks we’re getting our kitchen stripped out and a new one installed.

Today Abi and I went out to run a couple of errands in preparation. We brought the leather lounge chair that initially sat in my study and later migrated to the library away to the charity shop where we originally bought it. It always looked much more comfortable than it actually was. We also got a new shit box for the cats, because they’ll be spending time upstairs locked in our room while the builders are at work, and the old one is cracked and smelly. And a couple of plastic basins that we can use for washing dishes while we have no kitchen to use.

For Pictober in 2018 I was mostly using the Panasonic Lumix FZ1000; this time round I’m on a Fujifilm X-T20 with interchangeable lenses. I bought a (second-hand) Fujinon XF 16-80mm before the summer, and it has become my everyday lens. I enjoy having the wide angle capability, and a good bit of zoom reach. I got some great portrait shots of my colleagues during golden hour at the Meadowlands Racetrack a couple of weeks ago. I also seem to be spending most of my time in Fuji’s black and white ACROS film simulation mode.

I’m definitely having a good time with photography. Abi and I were talking about whether it’s time to upgrade our phones this year to get the new iPhone cameras, and I found myself interested but not compelled. My iPhone X is five years old now and it’s fine for the few apps I use. Replacing the batter last year gave it a new lease of life. It’s rare that I don’t get a whole day out of it. iPhone photography has moved on a lot, especially its low-light capabilities, but right now I’m very happy to roll with an old phone and a big camera. I feel like I’m getting better at understanding my equipment, and I’m taking pleasure from that.

Hopeful about solar

I vaguely remember reading an article a few years ago that discussed some of the effects of moving to en energy economy driven by solar and wind. Aside from the superficial environmental impact, there’s a fundamental change in moving from a world where energy plants consume fuel and therefore have high marginal costs, to a world where the marginal cost of energy production effectively drops to zero. (Apart from comparatively small ongoing maintenance costs.)

A sufficiently large quantitative change can easily flip over into a qualitative change. If electricity can be made abundantly and (effectively) “for free”, all kinds of things become possible that previously were non-viable. I think this is similar to what the availability of computing power has done in the cloud era. (Like how you can set up a tech company without owning your own racks of servers; machine learning; and, regrettably, blockchains.)

This blog post by Casey Handmer of Terraform Industries shows big ambition and presents a hopeful vision for a possible future where the bulk of the world’s hydrocarbons can be mined from the atmosphere as a result of this shift in cost:

Our process works by using solar power to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, concentrating CO2 from the atmosphere, then combining CO2 and hydrogen to form natural gas. […] As far as any of the market participants are concerned, fuel synthesis plants are less polluting, cheaper gas wells that convert capital investment into steady flows of fuel in a boringly predictable way.

There is nothing particularly special about the technological approach we’re taking. Each of the various parts is built on at least 100 years of industrial development, but up until this point no-one has considered scaling these up as a fundamental source of hydrocarbons, because doing so would be cost prohibitive. Why? The machinery is not particularly complex, but the energy demands are astronomical. Yet as our atmospheric CO2 concentration creeps steadily ever upwards year over year, our ability to extract silicon from rocks and transform it in frankly magical ways continues to progress.

One of these ways has produced the cheapest electricity ever. Electricity so cheap that in an ever growing number of markets it now makes more sense to turn solar electricity into hydrocarbons, than to burn hydrocarbons to make electricity.

Casey Handmer, “We’re going to need a lot of solar panels”

Covid sucks

We were at a wedding two weekends ago, and used the busy Eurostar from Amsterdam to London to get there. The train journey was lovely, but that’s probably where I picked up the disease. When we got back on the Sunday evening I had a sore throat. The following morning it was worse, and I tested positive for the coronavirus: an angry red T line that appeared even before the liquid had crept up to the C. We’ve been very cautious over for the last two years, and attending the wedding was a calculated risk. We masked as much as we could, but the dice rolled against us.

Fortunately we have a guest room with an en-suite bathroom that allows us to isolate from the rest of the household. Although Abi’s test on the Monday morning was negative, she wasn’t feeling great. As a precaution to shield Alex and Fiona, Abi joined me in the isolation chamber on Tuesday evening, and by Thursday she was testing positive as well. We’ve used Albert Heijn home delivery to keep the groceries flowing. Without a fridge, we’ve been living mostly on mueslibollen, cheese, and dry Kellogg’s cereal straight from the packet.

This was a rough ride. It’s only in the last couple of days that I’ve been starting to feel like myself again. After a week of nothing, my sense of smell has partly returned. Yesterday I actually felt bored, which was interesting. Until then I’d had a hard time concentrating on anything for any length of time. I’ve had a couple of books in here with me, but I only managed to finish one of them. We’ve watched some movies & TV shows together in the evenings, but mostly I’ve been feeling too exhausted to move or think.

Yesterday was a psychological low point. As well as feeling bored, I was starting to despair that this would ever end. We’ve been testing every day, and although my T line was fainter than the C line, I wasn’t seeing much change from day to day. I was scared that my immune system just wasn’t up to the task of clearing the virus, and that I’d still be in this state for weeks: the line getting slowly fainter, asymptotically approaching invisibility. Fiona is moving out next week. I’m upset that I haven’t been around with them for the last two weeks, and the thought of seeing them off to the airport in a taxi on Tuesday morning was painful. I had wanted these last couple of weeks at home to play out very differently.

Today, however, I tested and it was negative. I hardly dared to get my hopes up when a few minutes passed and there was still no line. But when 15 and 30 minutes went by and the T was still clear, I felt cautious relief. I’m still coughing, but that’s normal for me. (I have shitty lungs. I’ve never met a respiratory infection that didn’t love them.) My sense of smell isn’t all the way back, but at least it’s recovering.

Progression of my recent Covid tests, from Day 7 (18 July) to Day 11 (22 July). Day 0 was day of first positive test, Monday 11 July.

Abi is still testing positive, but her line is faint now as well, and today her C line appeared before the T line did. Also progress! But because we really don’t want to run the risk of Fiona testing positive on Tuesday morning before their flight, or Alex testing positive on Friday before we head off on our big road trip, I’m going to stay in isolation until tomorrow. If tomorrow’s test is negative as well, though, I’ll exit. I’ll probably keep wearing a mask around the house. Risk management is all about impact assessments and trade-offs. The impact of Alex or Fiona getting infected in the next few days would be really high, so extra caution is warranted.