Why am I here? Why are you here? Why do good questions come in threes? I’ve found it difficult in 2020 to do the level of self-reflection I typically do each new year. Maybe it’s the fact that we’re in the middle of an unprecedented global pandemic in which >88,000 Americans have died. Maybe it’s the economic environment in which >36 million Americans are recently out of work and my business will continue to feel the effects. Maybe it’s our newborn girl that we welcomed just last month in the middle of all this chaos.
I’m restarting this personal blog in the hopes of venting all kinds of frustrations I have from family life in quarantine, to transit and transportation issues around Boston and nationwide, to startup life, engineering and product development. Ultimately I’m hoping to use this as an outlet to turn thoughts into action and really put more passion into my work from managing a team of incredibly talented, multi-disciplinary engineers, to cycling advocacy and safe streets. Some of the content will be wonky and technical, some of it might be personal and revealing. Much of it will focus on three topics in particular:
1. Climate Change
Though our current public health crises are top-of-mind for most, the omnipresent threat of climate change is where I and my company (plug for MultiSensor Scientific) focus our efforts day-in and day-out. Despite the march of technological progress since the Industrial Revolution, climate change is a particularly complex problem pulling in a wide range of domains from atmospheric science to sociology and public policy.1 As JFK once said,
The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty, and all forms of human life.
There are huge time lags in the climate system that humans are just not accustomed to reacting to, let alone planning for. One issue I think about often is the disconnect between every public poll where 70% of Americans are concerned about climate change but are either unable or unwilling to make personal or political choices that actually reflect those views. It’s like watching a tornado from outside your window, being absolutely convinced it is headed for your neighbor’s house and “it’s not that bad”.
2. Startup Life & Hardware Engineering
I always knew I wanted to build a company from scratch. The sheer rawness and guile to say no one else can accomplish a task or build something as well as I and a carefully curated team can fits my personality I think. The number of lessons learned in an extremely short period of time when building your own business cannot be compared to any other profession. It is truly a “learn and adapt fast, or die” environment, particularly for hardware tech companies.
Though my background is in experimental physics, I’ve been building new hardware technologies for over 10 years now and there are some particular lessons learned that are difficult to convey without experience. These lessons take particular significance during this viral pandemic. Stay-at-home orders and remote work, don’t particularly work well when a diverse team of engineers need to collaborate on prototype equipment, sharing test experiences as well as physical equipment.
Generally they say some companies are making vitamins and some companies are making painkillers. Some companies are just making candy that rots your teeth and your brain. If I’m going to spend between 20-60% of my adult life in a career, I’d damn well better be making the world a better place. I’ve chosen an entrepreneurial path that matches #2 (Hardware Engineering) with #1 (Climate Change) not because it’s easy but because both are hard and we need as many smart, brash people as we can get!
3. Cycling & Safe Streets
While I’ve always enjoyed time on my bike, whether commuting to school or out to run errands, the advocacy piece I’ve only recently stumbled into. After a tragic pedestrian fatality in my neighborhood I started waking up to the endless ways our city streets and leaders are failing us, particularly here in the US. I grew up riding around and across Tampa, FL, a city notorious for being hostile to bike riders in the street.2 In 2008 I was able to visit the Netherlands to tour graduate programs, where I got to experience what quality bike infrastructure can do for a city, a population and a culture. Now, while regular bike commuting might not work for everyone everywhere, the refrain I’ve heard at countless community meetings, “this isn’t Amsterdam” is just nonsense.
To bring all three topics back around, I think making streets safe enough for all ages to safely have the option to ride a bike is the right thing to do. Some of my fondest memories are riding around the neighborhood when I was a kid. Now that I live in Boston, I’m afraid my kids won’t get to have the same experiences because the streets just aren’t safe. I’m sure I’ll make the case in multiple blog posts for the many benefits of safe cycling infrastructure, including:
- Economic - Driving costs society \(while cycling _saves_ society\)
- Efficiency - riding a bike is the most efficient mode of transport on a kcal/km basis, right next to walking but much faster
- Climate - zero emissions, potential for 2-6 gigatons CO2e reduced3
- Quality of Life - increased cycling reduces congestion, pollution, noise and access to mobility
- Health - cycling has been shown to help build muscle and bone, and is great for heart, brain and blood vessels
My 4-year old recently summed up my love for cycling pretty well, while riding a hilly street closed to car traffic:
I feel like I have powers!