discipline Today as I was mowing a lawn, a neighbor was out in her yard, moving with a power mower. I got to thinking about some of the reasons I enjoy using my reel mower. Here's a start.
  • Free. -- not to be overlooked. Most folks don't want them any more, so I got mine gratis. This started the relationship on a positive note. After considering the further reasons below, I'm sure I would pay for one, though
  • I can watch it go. -- Maybe you've been on a trip on an old paddle-wheel steamboat before. I took a trip on one once. That was on the Ohio River in Louisville, Kentucky. Part of what was fun for me about my steamboat ride was steading at the back of the ship, watching and listening as the giant slats of wood moved in and out of the water, pushing hard with water beads flying off. Now compare that experience to riding in a motorboat-- humming over the water powered by an unseen force. The comparison between a push reel mower and a power-mower is much the same. I get to see everything that's happening. I watch the grass as it get tugged between the blade and catch, snapped flung into the air like a miniature fireworks display. The harder I push, the better the show!
  • Safer -- I've probably done some dumb things when operating a power mower. I remember wearing shinguards at least once when mowing the lawn. This was probably because I'd run over something that shot out and cut me in the shin at least once and I expected it happen again. If the pushmower ran over thing big, it would just stop-- the mechanism is such that there the blade scrapes against a second plate-- which sharpens the blade as it goes-- so there is no room for anything to fit through and fly out and hit me. Either it's grass and it gets cut, or it's a stick and get's stuck.
  • It's cheaper -- No gas to buy. The machinery is simple, so it rarely breaks and needs fixing. When I got it, it had been sitting outside unused for a couple years. It started fine.
  • Might even be faster -- At best, I can clip across the yard at jugging speed. This is when I'm mowing the yard when it should be mowed. I believe this as fast as I could ever move with a power mower. At worst, I can cut a foot or two, back up a little but and give it another shove. This when I should have mowed the yard a couple of weeks earlier and the grass has good sunlight and plenty of rain. I remember cutting tall grass with a power mower was slow too-- it would get a big wad of grass stuck under it and get stuck and cut out. So I'll see it takes roughly the same amount of time to get the two mowers around the yard. Next time my neighbor is out and our yards both need cut, I can challenge him to a speed mowing contest and settle this. I'll make sure he gets a handicap of having to make a trip the store to get gas for his mower. :)
  • More exercise -- I just find ways to get exercise doing everyday things instead of making "getting exercise" an additional item on my schedule.
  • Quieter -- At least, it's quieter than a power mower. It makes a pleasant whir as the blades spin around. When pulling it backwards, it sounds like dragging a chain lightly over a corrugated tin roof. Sort of a disturbing sound really, but still quieter than other mowers.
  • Better for the environment -- This was actually one of my primary motivations for seeking out a push reel mower in the beginning -- no fossil fuel consumption. No I like it for a lot of other reasons-- it's low cost appeals to my frugalness, it's low maintenance appeals to my laziness and the time savings and workout appeal to my sense of efficiency.
  • Easy to stop for a glass of lemonade. -- Starting power mowers is an art. I'm talking about the ones with with the little plug on a string that you have yank with all your might, and then fiddle with a little throttle in the meantime. Without overhead to get the mower started comes a tendency to want to keep it running as long as possible. With the instantaneous stop and start of a push reel mower, taking a lemonade break is as easy as ever. In fact, I could take three.
If you are in the market for a new mower, peoplepoweredmachines.com looks interesting.

Jordan Taylor among his pots Jordan Taylor was my housemate for a year. He was finishing up his last year of college and I was working at my start-up website design firm, Summersault. His second term he devoted all his academic time to making pottery. So the times we had dinner together, we'd discuss what we were excited about that day. He'd often show me some new pots and ask for comments on them, which I was happy to oblige. I'd tell him about some new technology I read about on Slashdot that wow-ed me, like the World's Smallest Webserver.

We always had a kitchen full of homemade pottery, which I wasn't used to. I became fascinated with Jordan's pots. I became a ceramics critique, commenting on the glaze and the weight, the color and the curves, and later I was bold enough to comment on the theory of pottery aesthetics from my unqualified position.

I discovered that these handmade creations made me happier. I liked eating with them, handling them, and even washing them wasn't such a chore. There was often some small detail to be rediscovered. Beyond that, realizing the creation process made a difference to me. That is, looking at the pottery, I instantly recognize the object as being hand-made. With that, I know an individual put some care and time, thought and energy, into the pot. Looking at a plastic plate, or a mass-produced ceramic model, that process is instantly obvious as well. Maybe some assembly line worker glanced over my plate and checked it for defects as a machine pressed it and passed in on by. Which is sort of depressing to think about. The image reminds me of a job I had in a factory, staring a computer terminal, looking at x-rays of wheels to make sure they weren't defective. That was sort of depressing.

Being as I like to eat at least 3 times a day, I interacted a lot with Jordan's pots. I learned something from Jordan's pots. The first is that my environment really makes a difference, whether I like it or it not. This replaced my former notion that if I was just well-balanced enough internally, I could achieve maximum happiness in any environment. While I still find this notion of internal enlightenment attractive, the idea that my environment affects who I am has a nice twist hidden with in it: that I affect my environment. Specifically, I'm referring to the subtleties, like difference between a Wal-Mart plate and a Jordan Taylor plate from a distance. The difference may not even consciously register, but it's there.

So, I decided I wanted to be a handmade pot. I wanted to have that subtle texture that made people in my environment a little happier because I was somehow a little more appealing. I started shaving again. I switched from the big-ass lamb chops I'd been wearing to some more conservative burns. I even tried to shave every few days to stay maximize the clean-shaven look. I realize that not every one's got the same taste, but I figured maybe some people of the world held the view I do -- people that look like they've put some effort into grooming themselves are generally more attractive.

There was no tangible result from my experience, but that's what I expected. Instead I got a strengthened sense of how I'm connected with those around me, and how our happiness might be intertwined. All that from some pots.

Leisure Luge Photo The Leisure Luge was a spontaneously organized race of skateboard-driven armchairs. The 1999 event received significant internet coverage at the the time, and BBC Radio out of London did a live radio interview as a result.

I guess I've only been home in Kentucky for a day since I returned from Manhattan, and already that seems like an age.

Today the local Audubon chapter came out to take a wildflower walk on our farm. I tagged along, hoping to learn some relevent plant names, because really, I don't know many beyond "Dandelion", which some will claim is a weed anyway.

The tour barely got farther than 200 yards from our house, and the sharp eyed among the wildflower hunters collectively pointed out 26 distinct varieties of blooming plants. I was impressed. I couldn't find that much diversity in my curbside trash in Manhattan. (Not that Manhattan doesn't have a thing or two going for it-- it just doesn't have front yards.)

These flower hunters know how to make a short hike exciting. I usually strike out looking for exciting macro-features-- hilltop views, cliffs, and caves. Focusing on plants and the microcosm makes for the power hike. I'll consider this next time I need to squeeze a lot of natural beauty into a 20 minute hike.

For now, I'm excited just to have my toes in the grass again, to exchange concrete walls for actual hills.

From: stosbma@cs.earlham.edu Fri Apr 10 12:12:10 1998
To: Jordan Green <jgreen@antioch-college.edu>
Subject: Re: communications theory

I believe in conversation as powerful tool for human connection and positive change. A true conversation is like many-to-many communication. There no gatekeepers and anybody can get their word in.

The more a medium embraces the many-to-many model, the more I like it. The web excels at this. While only a small percent have the internet in their home, a good deal more people can get FREE access from the library or elsewhere, and from there they can get a FREE email account that they can check from anywhere the web is, and even build a FREE homepage with FREE tools.

Many people can put up a webpage that the whole (online) world can see. I think the lack of knowledge of this FREEness of the web is a greater inhibitor to people getting online than home access.

I believe the government will mandate universal access, just like they did for the telephone.

break The medium that comes next in line to meeting the many-to-many model is print. With the Kinko's/DTP revolution, distributing a 'zine locally is feasible for many people (especially with copies stolen from work). Many of the strongest communication channels here are one-to-many as you know.

Going back to the web for minute-- Web publishing does not mean instant worldwide distribution. Advertising bucks and the power to promote still draw an audience there. The difference is that a low budget non-profit person or group can attract a MASSIVE audience without advertising, while that is almost impossible in the print medium.

TV and Radio have the rare many-to-many public access channels, but for the most part the mediums are one-to-many. You don't get what you want, you get what they are playing.

Like you, I like media that you can take with you, a book, a radio. We are in the last years that the internet will be excluded from this. People won't realize it's even the internet anymore, because the wires will be gone, and it won't look like Netscape. Yesterday, I saw Windoze95 on a Seiko wrist watch. WTF? Already someone has visited my website from a cellphone. There are no barriers to prevent this-- it's already happening. The new language is called XML, of which HTML is a subset, and XML goes anywhere.

Just like past technologies-- Cars, TVs, radios, telephones-- the internet will affordable by most. The shift to a many-to-many medium for the people will be revolutionary, and I'm excited.

Already systems that use existing TVs as monitors sell for $200 to $300 and get people on the internet.

There is another positive movement underway within 'net culture that is little known (because it has no marketing budget) but very important. This is the freeware movement. The philosophy behind it is that all the tools you need should be free. The progress so far has been amazing. As it turns out, freeware turns out to often be the BEST software because the way in which it is developed-- by keeping the source code of the software open for all it to see, t pulls on the talent pool of the world's best and brightest, and I do mean the WORLD's, not a small team who can't tell their company secrets to anyone.

Witness the success: Linux, the premier freeware operating system, is widely regarded a first-rate, stable OS. Flavors of Linux run a standard PC or Macintosh. Apache, a freeware webserver, holds over 50% of it's marketshare, ad it's growing. Perl, a freeware programming language is the runaway choose for web programming. The GIMP, freeware Photoshop, currently is more powerful in many ways than Photo shop, and it hasn't even hit version 1!

As the economy shifts towards communication, information and ideas, it will be interesting to see how the burgeoning freeware culture affects in.

It will continue to be true: To reach as many people as possible we must embrace all mediums.

geared to go,

-mark