Technology *and* liberal arts

One of the most misguided notions I’ve seen in my life is that in one’s career and education you have to choose between a technical path and a non-technical one. It is a false choice. Anyone who has worked with a great engineer who also is a gifted communicator knows what I mean. In an increasingly complex world, people building the products and systems we all use need to be well-rounded and better-informed more than ever. As platforms deal regularly with issues like ethnic violence, having some history and political science majors in the room along with the computer science experts should be considered downright necessary. We should be encouraging liberal arts majors to spend more time studying technology and the engineering majors should spend more time outside of the tech buildings on campus. Yes, and. . .

Instead, we have a culture that still largely diminishes the study of liberal arts as un-serious and enrollment in humanities programs is falling across the country (see this recent New Yorker piece: “The End of the English Major.”) As technology has become fully embedded in our daily lives, most of the issues we face are cultural, historical, sociological, and political. We need people who engage with and understand those contexts more than ever.

In his last address to Apple developers before he passed, Steve Jobs himself challenged this notion, saying:

Technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with the liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that makes our hearts sing.

I agree with Steve. It’s technology *and* liberal arts.

Language gaps as an opportunity to connect

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself standing in line at a store in Oaxaca, Mexico that sells boxes and packing tape. I was at the tail end of a one-week trip and I had three bottles of mezcal and two packages of mole that weren’t going to make it back unless I packed and shipped them so this was a critical mission. I took two years of Spanish in high school and two more years in college and had gotten to the point where I could read novels in Spanish, but my skills had gotten rusty. This was a time to push myself with some real-world interaction. The shop I visited wasn’t a tourist place and the people in line all seemed to be locals going about their daily business — the only common factor among us was needing boxes and packing materials.

I planned my conversation in my head and was able to say that I needed a box to pack some bottles along with tape and bubble wrap. I was feeling pretty satisfied with myself until the clerk asked “¿Cuantos metros?” (how many meters?) referring to the bubble wrap. My scheme broke down when I couldn’t think of how to ask “how wide is the bubble wrap?” I froze and pulled out my phone and was able to power through using Google Translate’s Conversation feature (which is amazing). I finished my purchase and ended the conversation by saying “Gracias por su paciencia con mi español” (thank you for your patience with my Spanish.) The clerk smiled and I left with a little better Spanish though at the cost of the overall efficiency of the establishment. (btw, if you ever need boxes and packing materials in Oaxaca, Pepe Cartón is the place).

Fast-forward to several days later and I found myself standing with my 11-year-old son at Newark Airport waiting for a pre-arranged airport pickup after a visit to relatives in North Carolina. It was late and I had that tired please-get-me-home feeling that all parents have at the end of such trips. I was messaging with the driver in the ride share app and I noticed that each response to whatever I said was, “OK, got it!” with “translated via Google Translate” under it. I looked at his profile and it was all in Chinese.

A lot of time passed and I wondered why he hadn’t picked us up yet. I noticed that the app had told him to pick us up in Terminal B so he was circling there — but we were in Terminal A. I’ll save you the play-by-play of how we finally connected but by the time the driver found us, he was pretty stressed and so was I. But it was then that I had a moment of recognition: the driver was me standing in line at the packing store in Oaxaca, doing his best to communicate but not quite getting there. I remembered how the clerk in Oaxaca smiled at me as I stumbled and I decided to extend the driver the same human courtesy. I could tell when he picked us up that he expected us to be angry but I just smiled and said, “Thank you.” I assume he understood because he seemed to calm a bit.

There was definitely a distinct part of me that wanted to rail against the situation and be angry — I am paying for this ride and it should “just work” and why is this happening? I could feel the energy within me of the guy we’ve all heard in airports railing to someone on the other end of a call about the indignity of all of the travel pain he has endured, which is usually not that much in the grand scheme but always told in dramatic terms that rival the epic sweep of the Aeneid. But life is full of miscues and mistakes and here was a guy who had the bravery to come to a country where he didn’t know the language and get out on the road to try to make a living. When I thought about this, my mood quickly switched from irritation to admiration.

Finally in the car, I pulled out my phone, put Google Translate into Conversation mode, and said, “Thank you for driving us home.” I translated it to Chinese and played that translation for the driver. He smiled and thirty minutes later we were home.

Talking about OmniFocus on the Omni Show podcast

I almost never do podcasts but when the Omni Show called and asked me to talk about a piece of software that has been essential to my life for 15+ years (OmniFocus) I had to say yes. OmniFocus is how I manage my day-to-day life and I couldn’t live without it. Here is how they describe the episode:

In this episode, we learn how he uses OmniFocus to help manage his workload and bring order to his life.

Chad shares personal insights he’s gained as a CEO, including the importance of living an authentic life and staying true to oneself. We talk through the belief that personal improvement doesn’t happen by accident, and how the right productivity habits can keep anyone optimally engaged.

Here’s the podcast (audio and transcript at link but also available in the usual places you find your podcasts).

Gas vs. electric stoves: notes from my own direct experience

You might have heard a couple of weeks ago that NY Governor Kathy Hochul came out in favor of banning gas stoves starting in 2030 or 2035, depending on the nature of the project. This kicked off a firestorm of alarm, consternation, and misinformation, adding another log to the culture war fire. I’ll leave the culture war to others but wanted to write here about my direct experience switching to an electric stove after using gas stoves for most of my life. I’ve been using an electric stove (induction specifically) for two years now so everything below is from direct hands-on experience. In short, I love my induction stove and it feels like a serious upgrade from gas.

When most people hear “electric stove,” I’m pretty sure they think of the 1980s version of an electric stove, with the coils that turn red when you turn the knob to high. I grew up with one of those and have occasionally stayed in Airbnb’s with them. Those electric cooktops do, in fact, suck and are terrible to cook on. Induction is a completely different experience.

First: a simple $69.99 step to make such a decision easier

When we were renovating our house, we had to make many decisions that we knew we would have to live with and one of them was what kind of stove we would use. Our idealistic selves wanted an all-electric home using as much clean energy as possible. I have used gas for nearly all of my life and was skeptical of induction, mainly because I hadn’t used it — but I was curious. I fretted a little about the decision and then my wife had a great idea — we could buy one of these single-burner induction cooktop from Ikea for $69.99 and actually test it out instead of speculating. Our renovation was going to take multiple years and we didn’t have to make our final decision just yet, so we put that $69.99 Ikea induction burner on the counter beside our gas stove and started using it to cook our usual foods. Once I had direct experience, I never looked back. Induction is awesome (and it was the linchpin in being able to have what is now an all-electric home).

Update 2/23/23: One library in Northampton, MA now lets patrons check out induction cooktops for free (1, 2). Very cool. I hope other libraries take note.

Speed of cooking with electric vs. gas.

Electric (induction specifically) is much faster than gas. I know this from direct experience doing everything from boiling water to searing a steak. There is no “debate” to be had here.

You can see a live demonstration of the speed difference below on this “Ask This Old House” segment:

Precise control when cooking

While I’m not a professional chef, I cook a lot. Even simple things that I cook require fairly fine-grained temperature control. For example, I know from reading recipes that pancakes cook best on a 375° surface. Of course, you can cook by “feel” with induction but I like to be scientific about things when I can. I have an infrared gun that I point at the pan as I turn the heat up (see photo) to get the surface temperature.

I’ve noticed that when I dial up the heat on my induction cooktop, the temperature moves very predictably. And when I accidentally go a little too far heating up a pan, it goes down just as predictably when I turn the dial the other way. I’m able to hit 375° reliably when I’m making pancakes and they come out great every time.

Top chefs increasingly love induction. In “The Case for Induction Cooking, Versus Gas Stoves,” you can read about how Eric Ripert, the chef of Le Bernardin, renovated two of his homes and opted for induction. “After two days, I was in love. It’s so much more precise than watching a flame. You can really focus on your cooking and pay attention to what’s inside the pan, not what’s underneath it.”

On this topic, also check out “Professional chefs tout the culinary — and environmental — advantages of induction stoves.”

Practical shortcomings of induction

The only practical shortcoming I’ve identified from induction is that cooking in a typical wok on an induction stovetop isn’t really possible. Induction depends on direct contact with the pan so a round-bottom wok on a flat induction surface doesn’t generate the intense heat on the rounded sides of a wok. There are solutions for that, though. You can see a consumer-grade induction wok demonstrated here by Jon Kung that you can buy yourself. There are commercial options available, too, if you’re super-serious about wok cooking.

If you’re in a position where you’re making the same gas vs. induction choice we did and you feel a little nervous about it, give induction a try. I think you’ll be really happy with it and be very pleasantly surprised.

Home setup of two Internet providers with automatic failover

As more of our lives depend on Internet access, it has become increasingly important that the Internet be up all the time. Most providers are pretty solid these days but no provider is perfect. My primary provider has few outages but I’ve had at least two multi-hour outages and occasional 5-minute glitches. I work mostly from home coaching busy executives over Zoom and don’t want to waste their valuable time with technical glitches if I can help it — if you have 5 minutes of downtime and it’s the wrong 5 minutes, it can be super-distracting. And from a family perspective, if the Internet goes down at home, everyone immediately yells out for me to fix it. I decided to solve the problem by getting a 2nd inexpensive Internet provider and it has been awesome. Here’s how I set that up.

When it comes to tech gear, I’m a little like the guy who constantly tweaks a hot rod in his garage even though in reality he really only needs to drive to the grocery store. In that spirit, my home router is an enterprise-grade Unifi Dream Machine Pro. For an enterprise router, it’s not that expensive — $379. (I setup a VPN on it a while back because I *could*, not because I had any use case. . . but then I found myself outside of the US trying to watch an NBA playoff game and VPN’ed into my home network to get around the geo restrictions that were blocking me from watching the game. If you’re tried to use commercial VPN services, you’ve probably seen that they’re increasingly unable to evade the major streaming providers so this was a big win. If you build it, they will come. . . )

The Unifi Dream Machine Pro (UDM Pro) has two WAN ports. For the less technical, WAN means “wide area network” but just think of it as a connection to the Internet. Consumer-grade routers usually have just one WAN port for the provider you are using but since the UDM Pro has two, you can connect two providers to it. The device OS for the UDM Pro has a WAN Failover capability meaning that if your primary Internet provider goes down, it detects the outage immediately and flips to the backup. When the primary comes back, it automatically flips back.

Having two Internet providers for very occasional outages sounds expensive, and it could be — but I noticed recently that Verizon started offering a $25/month 5G wireless router for existing Verizon Wireless customers. Given the nature of my business and all the things in my household that depend on the Internet, $25/month seems well worth it to have rock-solid Internet. (Sure, you could tether off of your phone when your Internet goes down, but setting up other family members at a moment’s notice is a pain. And what if you — the full-time home network administrator — are not home?) With the UDM Pro and WAN Failover, your existing wireless network can theoretically just keep working. I like the idea of the backup to my cable Internet being wireless since presumably if there was an incident like a cable cut in the street, my failover would be less likely to be affected (though I haven’t tested that assumption).

So how did this work in practice? I got the Verizon 5G router to use as my backup Internet. It was easy to set up. Like any wireless device, it needs to have good reception so I set it up near a window and plugged it into the backup WAN port on my UDM Pro. The video at the bottom of this post goes through the rest of the setup details. It’s also easy if you have basic network knowledge.

My primary cable connection tends to get about 300 mbps down and 50 mbps up when I’m using my laptop around the house and the secondary (the 5G) gets about 30 mbps down and 10-15 mbps up so the service. To test out if this would work for my family’s typical usage, I unplugged my primary Internet for 48 hours and didn’t tell anyone in my family that I did it. I randomly asked my wife and son if they had noticed any Internet issues and they just gave me puzzled looks. To further test, I re-enabled the primary Internet and then randomly unplugged it when I knew everyone was using their devices. I got notifications on my admin apps that the Internet had failed over to the backup. No cries for help! Everything just kept humming along.

Now I unplug the primary Internet occasionally just to enjoy the fruits of my labor. Once I even had people over to watch a big football game and the Internet went out during the game, which we were watching on a streaming service. No one noticed except me since I got the failover alert on the admin app.

So, in the final analysis, setting things up this way was a Very Good Thing. If you can spring for the UDM Pro ($379) and 5G service ($25-$35) in addition to your primary Internet, you can set this all up for yourself in less than an hour.

RIP Billy Packer

This morning, I got numerous texts from friends noting that Billy Packer had died. As one friend shared, “If you’re our age, it’s like the Big Bang – Billy Packer and college hoops were always there, before time.” And that is true. He called every Final Four in my life that I can remember. Billy Packer was a legend in North Carolina where I grew up, having played for Wake Forest before becoming a ubiquitous college basketball color commentator. Love him or hate him (and some people did!) Packer was a key part of the landscape.

I grew up in an NC State household. My dad went to NC State and was followed by my brother. I wasn’t that interested in college basketball until I was 11 and the 1983 NC State “Cardiac Pack” pulled off one of the greatest runs and championship upsets in all of sports history. Even now, watching that final shot and Lorenzo Charles’ thoroughly improbable last-second dunk gives me chills and fills me with emotion (even today, I probably watch it at least three times a year). That’s when I became addicted to college hoops and the sweeping narratives that grip the country every year during March Madness. And, of course, Billy Packer called that game.

In a certain sense, I realize that sports are trivial, but experiencing that championship with my dad was one of the highest points of our time together on this earth and I can’t think of those moments without hearing Billy Packer’s voice (“THEY WON IT!”) RIP Billy Packer.

Nobuyuki Tsujii and experiencing new music

I love music. Growing up in North Carolina, I had a steady diet of top 40 radio with a heavy dose of country music from my mother (especially Loretta Lynn, George Jones, and Tammy Wynette). While I listen to a wide variety of music, I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface on genres like classical, or more generally, music from outside the United States. I’ve been trying to actively change that.

Over the past few years, I’ve been making a special effort to buy tickets to performances by artists I don’t already know and in genres explicitly outside what I know. NYC has so many amazing venues with decades of proven curatorial excellence so it’s easy to do here. This approach has led me to see artists like Senegalese superstar Youssou N’Dour and Brazilian legend Caetano Veloso (check out this New Yorker piece on him: “How Caetano Veloso Revolutionized Brazil’s Sound and Spirit.”) I walked into those shows knowing nothing about the artists or their music, or even the language they were singing in. Without fail, I leave those shows a huge fan and the music becomes part of my musical identity. (If you get a chance to see either Youssou N’Dour or Caetano Veloso – DO IT. Wow. A couple of the best shows I’ve ever seen.)

We went to one of those don’t-know-anything-about-this-artist shows last night at Carnegie Hall. The performer was Nobuyuki Tsujii, a Japanese pianist. Before these shows, I make a special effort NOT to read about the performer or listen to the music since I want to experience it fully with no pre-conceptions or pre-defined expectations. When we walked up to Carnegie Hall, the body of people in line was electric. After the crowd filed in and he came out to perform, the crowd went crazy. For the next two hours, we were blown away (see program below). We found ourselves yelling for an encore as part of a rapturous standing ovation (and we got three encores interspersed with the curtain calls).

I’m so glad we went — we’re now Nobuyuki Tsujii’s newest fans. Be sure to go see him (and other artists you might not know) when you get the chance.

Back to blogging: ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more

In 1965, Dylan (in)famously went electric at Newport, kicking off a sizzling set with “Maggie’s Farm” (see it on YouTube). The FU spirit of the song is powerful. Dylan was breaking free from folk music convention based on the power of a song that itself represented a musical insurrection — breaking free from a toxic sharecropper / landlord relationship:

I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
No, I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
Well, I try my best
To be just like I am
But everybody wants you
To be just like them
They sing while you slave and I just get bored
I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more

This story is as old as time. The basic theme from “Maggie’s Farm” was lifted from a 1920s Bentley Brothers song, “Penny’s Farm.” This was a song that Dylan certainly knew since the basic lyrical form showed up later in his song “Hard Times in New York Town.” Dylan clearly drew his inspiration for “Maggie’s Farm” from that Bentley Brothers’ song:

You go in the fields, you’ll work all day,
Way into night but you get no pay;
(You’re) promised some meat or a little bucket (of) lard;
It’s hard to be a renter on Penny’s farm.
It’s a-hard times in the country, Out on Penny’s farm.

Digital sharecropping on Twitter

In today’s world, many of us are doing the digital equivalent of working on Maggie’s farm but our new landlords are digital and Twitter is now Elon’s private farm. On Twitter, the little bit of meat and lard you get for working on Elon’s farm and enduring the landlord’s occasional abusive rants is “engagement.” The idea of “digital sharecropping” is certainly not new (1, 2) but I would argue that the “engagement” rewards one gets are generally worth less and are more troublesome than when that term originally emerged years ago. The meager rewards most people get are worth even less than the cast-off scraps they got in the first place. From a business standpoint, advertisers certainly seem to valuing this engagement less than ever, as selling ads on Twitter has become equivalent to walking around wearing a sandwich board with your brand at a combination building explosion / riot / car wreck / hanging / bloody insurrection.

I’m not a Twitter star by any means but I’ve had moments of achieving large-scale engagement and the general experience is a short-term rush of endorphins (“people are interested in what I have to say!”) followed by the online equivalent of a burst sewer pipe flooding your house with shit. As engagement shoots up, the quality of the conversation goes irretrievably downhill to the point where you mute replies, start blocking people, mute specific words, and clench your teeth until the flow of sewage stops and you can get back to your regular life. Even when you’re not actively involved in a discussion, incredibly important topics like “free speech” get debated with all the rigor of a first-year philosophy student who just took a massive bong hit and won’t leave your dorm room until he expresses every last faux-profound thought on the subject. This is, to put it mildly, not fun.

Blogging: old-school but WAY better

Blogging is entirely different and I would argue better. Blogging is a little retrograde, but retrograde in the same way a warm vinyl record with illustrations and liner notes is retro in comparison to a disembodied streaming service where accessing music is hyper-convenient but with very little warmth.

With a blog post, I can’t just react or dunk on someone — I have to actually write and formulate thoughts. When I’m done, I post and let it sit as I focus on other things. I feel clear-headed (vs. the brace for impact feeling I get when posting anything remotely controversial on Twitter). Anything you might call “engagement” on a blog is generally slower and more thoughtful. I have been blogging in some form for almost 20 years and I still get thoughtful emails about posts from many years ago, whereas with Twitter people tend to forget what you posted within hours. The overall body of tweets in the universe don’t tend to serve as an archive of considered thinking. (In fact, the primary use case for old tweets today seems to be surfacing things people wish they hadn’t said.) The vibe of Twitter often resembles Sartre’s dark play No Exit in what we are collectively trapped in a room with each other and the only thing we can do to pass the time is engage in mutual torment. L’enfer, c’est les autres (“Hell is other people”).

Sure, the engagement model around blogging is much less instantaneous and visceral. You don’t get to likes and retweets pouring in immediately — but that’s a feature, not a bug. With blogging, you might write a post that only three people read, but if the right three people read it, it can be life-changing.

A good blog post can have the same enduring small-but-huge generative spirit of the first Velvet Underground record, of which Brian Eno famously said, “The first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band.” My post about helping move a Confederate monument only has about 1,000 all-time views but it connected me to an historian doing work in this area and we met up for dinner when he visited NYC (turned out we were related! Another story for another time.) A potential executive coaching client doing background research on me also found that post and instantly related to the topic given that he had grown up in the South. We have been working together for years now and that post provided a key part of the instant rapport and connection that makes a coaching relationship work. When I saw the esteemed historian Robert Caro speak in Brooklyn, I was able to ask him if he believed LBJ (subject of his Pulitzer Prize winning books) was actually racist, and I blogged his answer. The post only has ~5,000 all-time views but blogging what I heard actually contributes to the historical record in a meaningful way. I send this post about red / yellow / green check-ins to my coaching clients all the time as practical guidance on a research-backed practice that will improve communication in their teams.

I have many examples like the ones above over the years but those immediately come to mind. The blogging medium promotes thoughtful interaction. It’s thoughtfully prepared “slow food” versus the McDonald’s-slamming-out-burgers of Twitter.

I no longer like the way I feel when I use Twitter. With Twitter, I find myself transforming into the never-satiated “hungry ghost” of Tibetan Buddhism, with a “mouth the size of a needle’s eye and a stomach the size of a mountain.” I might get a bunch of likes and retweets but the more I get, the more I want — and the dumber the conversation tends to get. And the more “engagement” I get, the more I might find myself arguing all day with strangers about a momentary thought that I didn’t care that much about in the first place. Even dumber, I find myself hardening on that fleeting thought as arguments escalate. I see otherwise lovely people I know in real life transform into raging maniacs on a daily basis. If “engagement” is seeing an endless parade of everyone’s worst selves, then Twitter is truly killing it right now. But for me, this type of environment has turned into an all-around waste of mental and emotional energy.

So, I ain’t gonna work on Elon’s farm no more. It’s time to step out of the darkness and into the light.

As Dylan sang, I got a head full of ideas that are drivin’ me insane — pissing into the algorithmic wind of Twitter isn’t how I want to work through those ideas. I’m not deleting my Twitter account but will be going more or less read-only while doing most of my writing here on my own virtual land (powered by WordPress, built by a company led by a person who seems like a deeply thoughtful person — great interview with Matt Mullenweg here, btw). Let’s see how it goes.

Building an all-electric home

A few years ago, we decided to buy an 1870s-era Brooklyn brownstone and gut renovate it to “passive house” standards (more detailed info on “passive house” here). During the middle of our project, I wrote about why I was excited about the passive house approach. In short, a passive house leverages simple building techniques to build a highly-insulated air-tight home that reduces energy usage by up to 90% while providing clean, fresh, filtered air. Our basic goal with the project aside from having a nice living space was to build a home that would last another 150 years while taking into account its impact on climate change. (This is not a new interest for me — I had similar motivations when we built Etsy’s award-winning (1, 2, 3) headquarters in Brooklyn which participated in the Living Building Challenge (LBC) as one of the largest LBC buildings in NYC). To address climate change, our environments at work and at home have to be built with purpose with responsible energy usage baked in. Recycling and reusable tote bags aren’t going to cut it (see “The Great Recycling Con” and “The Cotton Tote Crisis“).

One of the choices we made was making the home all-electric. Now that we’re basically done, I’m writing this because we learned a lot from the process. I’m hoping others out there who read this may share their lessons (and I’m glad to update these posts to answer any questions anyone might have). My plan is to write in some detail later about each of the key areas (see “Key choices in building an all-electric home” below) and what we learned in the multi-year process.

All-electric: why?

According to the NYT, 67 percent of carbon emissions in NYC come from buildings. A gut renovation is a huge opportunity to do the deep work required to minimize the long-term footprint of a building. Part of that is designing the home to be all-electric. Union Square Ventures wrote about the importance of electrification in its series about areas they are exploring for their Climate Fund (proud to be an LP!) As they wrote: “Building electrification and grid decarbonization go hand-in-hand. While electrification does not instantly make the energy supply entirely clean, it gives it a chance to be.” The clean energy future isn’t fully here yet but aligning around electric means that when it is (and it will get here), we’ll be fully ready to plug in. For now, we have a small solar array on the roof that provides some of the energy and we signed up for CleanChoice Energy via ConEd (the local utility in NYC) for the rest of our power. Theoretically, the energy we consume in the house produces zero carbon emissions.

We’ve lived in the house for 10 months now and that’s given us the opportunity to experience weather extremes that are typical of NYC, from 16F / -9C in January to 97F / 36C in June. So far, the energy consumption numbers are what I was told they would be but I still find them stunning. My rough numbers comparing energy bills from my old conventional NYC apartment (a developer-renovated brownstone with an apartment on each floor) with the new house suggest about an ~85% reduction in energy usage versus my old apartment when adjusted for square footage. Yes, 85%.

While it wasn’t cheap for us to get to this point, this kind of project isn’t a way of building that demands a huge premium. There are a number of affordable housing projects being built to passive house standards around the country, with the largest right here in NYC: Bronx – Park Avenue Green. Habitat for Humanity has built passive houses, too. These projects recognize that high energy bills are a key contributor to poverty and the passive house approach mitigates the impact of energy costs by almost an order of magnitude. Affordable housing isn’t just about getting someone into a house they can afford to buy. It’s just as important — if not more — to get into a house you can afford to operate.

It’s a smart way to build for the long-term, plain and simple, and much less expensive to operate than a conventional building. There’s no fancy, untested technology and it all works right now. In fact, the core principles of passive house building were established in response to rising fuel prices during the 1973 oil embargo when I was a year old and started to take hold in the 1980s.

Key choices in building an all-electric home

There were a couple of key areas where we had to make quite a few choices. I don’t know if all of them were “right” but we’re happy with the results. In future posts, I plan to write about these issues from the perspective of someone who had to make all of these choices.

  1. Supply of electricity. In NYC, we have ConEd and the default electricity feed you get makes no provisions for renewable sources. In other words, it’s default “dirty.” Building and fire codes in NYC make it difficult in some environments (e.g. landmarked districts) to fully blanket a roof top with solar, which can limit one’s ability to offset electricity from the utility, or to use batteries to capture and use daytime energy. I learned a LOT about this and will definitely document what I learned in a future post.
  2. Appliances. Like many people in NYC, we were accustomed to using a gas range, a gas hot water heater, gas heating (via a boiler), and a gas dryer. The thought of using electric versions of each of those gave us some anxiety as the functioning of each of those systems affects one’s living experience significantly. We did it, though, and are super-happy with the results.

I’m not sure exactly when I’ll write the more detailed posts but if you’re interested in this topic, feel free to reach out and let me know what you’re interested in. I’ll try to write about it if my experience offers any insight! If you’ve been through the same process in NYC or anywhere else, I’d love to hear from you about your lessons learned.

My letter to the editor was published

Update 7/30/20: my offer to help fund the move of the Confederate monument was accepted and I sent a check for $15K (a little more than my initial offer) to the Town of Louisburg today.

I wrote a letter to the editor of The Franklin Times about the Confederate monument in Louisburg, NC, where both sides of my family go way back to the 1700s, including slave owners and Confederate soldiers, including one who gave his life for the Confederacy. It was published today (PDF of the paper – it’s on 5A). Last week, I wrote in detail about what led me to write the letter (“Moving my Confederate monument“) but I wasn’t sure it would be published. In the letter, I explain how the monument relates to my family, why I think it should be moved, and offered $10,000 towards moving it. The letter ran today in the print edition under the headline “Monument’s move ‘applauded,’ financial assistance pledged.” (image of paper and text of letter below)

Since I wrote the letter, the monument was moved into storage in a hurry over the weekend out of public safety concerns. The news report on the front page of the print paper today gives a sense of why:

In recent days, the protests have grown more confrontational, especially as those from outside Louisburg joined in, including at least two motorcycle clubs that showed up armed with guns and claw hammers to “defend” the monument.

This is yet another reason the monument has to be moved. It’s time to fight together for our collective future, not litigate the distant past.



To the editor:

I am writing to applaud the decision of the Louisburg Town Council to move the Confederate statue to the Oakwood Cemetery, which I’ve been following from afar. While I don’t live in Franklin County, I’ve spent a lot of time in Franklin County. Both of my parents were born and raised in Franklin County and their lines go back to the 1700s, before Franklin County was even called Franklin County. As an adult, I’ve studied the history of my family, all of whom fought for the Confederacy, including multiple casualties: my great-great-grandfather James Martin Dickerson (wounded at Gettysburg), great-great-grandfather James Dallas Pearce (wounded at Cold Harbor, VA), and 4th-great uncle Solomon Pearce (killed at Sharpsburg/Antietam). Solomon’s father Nathan — my 4th-great-grandfather who shares my grandfather’s name — owned slaves. While they may have believed they were fighting for a just cause at the time, everything we know today shows that the cause was wrong. More importantly, the symbols that revere a time that is now in the distant past are making it harder than ever to move forward into the future.

As we grow up, our understanding changes as we spend more time in the world. Growing up in North Carolina, I loved the Confederate flag and kept a Confederate Army hat in my room. I never thought about what the Confederate cause and its symbols might mean to others. But I grew up and learned the hurt that those symbols represented to people I cared about, and I put them away for good. As the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:11: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” In a similar spirit, it is time for Louisburg and Franklin County to move forward by putting this monument in its rightful place. It is time to face the future together, not dwell on a divisive past.

It is notable to me that the plan to move the monument adopted by the town council closely mirrors the one proposed by Will Hinton just two years ago. We owe Will Hinton our gratitude for having the vision, integrity, and love for the community to raise difficult questions two years ago and for risking his reputation by taking an unpopular position and speaking out about it. History is filled with people who did the right thing at great cost to themselves while alive, only to be recognized only after death as right. I believe Will Hinton should be celebrated today. As a tribute to his vision, I would like to offer the Town of Louisburg $10,000 towards moving the monument to its rightful place.

I know many in my family there in Franklin County will not agree with me. Doing what is right doesn’t always create harmony. Ultimately, I believe we honor the memories of our ancestors by doing what is right today. It is time to replace the divisive symbols of yesterday with symbols of unity. Thank you, Will Hinton, for your courage and to the members of the Louisburg Town Council who cast the right vote.

Chad Dickerson
Brooklyn, NY