Category: Information

Reading “climate-fi”

Climate-fi is a genre of novels in which the effects of climate change are central to the plot. I have become more of a fan of climate fiction commensurate with the frequency of books being published.

The first climate-fi story I read – before I knew the genre name – was “The Water Knife” by Paolo Bacigalupi. That came out in 2015 and it wasn’t until 2020 that I picked up the genre again.

Here are books I recommend:

  • The Water Knife explores the realistic issues of freshwater supply and who has the right to water sources in the Southwest. This is especially relevant to problems and discussions today, given that people in Arizona are having to buy water from the private market, governments are not approving proposed developments unless they come with new water sources, the state continues to usurp water from upstream freshwater sources, land use is single-use and sprawling, and historic water rights are still a source of conflict.
  • Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler. The protagonist and her family live in a tenuous gated community in the near future of a United States ravaged by climate change and other economic and political upheavals. She eventually travels towards a place to establish a better community based on a religion she invents.
  • Ministry for the Future, by Kim Stanley Robinson, opens in the “almost present” day describing a heat wave in South Asia during which the wet bulb temperature challenges the body’s ability to cool itself and many people die. A climate terrorist group forms to force the world to adapt to and mitigate climate change globally otherwise the poorest people will suffer the most during the crisis. (KSR personally sees cities as a climate change solution.)
  • Termination Shock by Neal Stephenson opens with a riveting story of the Dutch queen’s plane crashing in Texas and then winds around the world narrating seemingly unconnected climate change-related events. The story then focuses on how shooting sulfur into the atmosphere has an effect on how much energy of the sun reaches Earth, something that actually happened last year.

What climate fiction books and stories do you recommend?

“Termination Shock” by Neal Stephenson

Traffic calming around Chicago schools and parks

Reducing the number and speed of automobiles near schools and parks is a proven way to reduce the number of traffic crashes involving children, part of a practice known as “traffic calming”. In Chicago a key way to do that has been to “cul-de-sac” (which I’m using as a verb) a street to prevent through traffic (reducing the number) and preventing speeding (reducing the speed).

My study of this was inspired by the above tweet, where the person is accurate when they say, “it works with any street”. Indeed: Full access to the school or park and to every property on the block is maintained, but drivers are not able to go through while pedestrians and bicyclists can (another practice called “modal filtering“).

My favorite example in Chicago is Hadiya Pendleton Park, at 4345 S Calumet Ave. This project created two mid-block cul-de-sacs and a park in the middle of a block, using vacant city-owned land on both sides. Creating new open space is a common corresponding outcome of the cul-de-sac application, which is what occurred at Funston Elementary School (see the before and after aerial photos below).

two black and white aerial photos taken of Funston Elementary School, one in 1998 showing a 4-way intersection of McLean Ave and Central Park Ave and one in 2003 showing a cul-de-sac on McLean Ave west of the school and landscaped area between the cul-de-sac and the three-way intersection of McLean and Central Park.

Through Twitter I solicited additional examples of where the city has created traffic calming near schools and parks using cul-de-sacs. Examples were submitted by RolandEmily (who mentioned Funston), Matt, Steven, and another tweeter.

Using OpenStreetMap, Overpass Query Language, and Overpass Turbo, we can find all of the schools and parks that are within a specified distance of a cul-de-sac. It turns out there are 153 schools and parks in Chicago that are within 150 feet of a cul-de-sac. (This considers only schools, parks, and cul-de-sacs, tagged as “turning circles”, currently mapped in OSM, and I have not verified each of the 153 instances.)

Map showing parks, schools, and adjacent cul-de-sacs, the results of the Overpass Turbo query.
Map showing parks, schools, and adjacent cul-de-sacs, the results of the Overpass Turbo query. An inset map shows a zoomed in portion of the map to illustrate the different types of features captured in the Overpass Turbo query (specifically it shows Graham Elementary School and McInerney Park).

The query below will find all of the cul-de-sacs (mapped as “turning circles” in OSM parlance) that are in Chicago, all of the schools and parks in Chicago, and then all of the two categories of features that are within 45 meters of each other. (Run the query and show the map, which will always grab the latest data.)

example from OSM wiki:
// fetch area “Chicago” to search in

// get cul-de-sacs

// get parks and schools

// find parks and schools near cul-de-sacs

// find cul-de-sacs near parks and schools

// output results to the map
(.matchingSchoolsParks; .matchingTurningCircles;);
out geom;

Read the three other blog posts I’ve written about using Overpass Turbo to quickly sift through and extract desired mapping data from OpenStreetMap.

Get yourself an air purifier

The air quality in the Midwest sucks a lot right now, due to smoke coming from forest fires in Canada. You need an air purifier to clean the air inside your home.

I’ll describe what I personally look for in an air purifier and guide you to a couple of models. I can only recommend the one I have, since it’s one of two that I’ve used, but I would rather have a different model.

I use a Coway Airmega 200S. I bought it for about $180. I bought this model because it can cover a large room (my entire studio is about 550 s.f.), has “auto” and “eco” modes, an air quality sensor, and three filters (a washable screen, a charcoal filter to remove odors, and a HEPA filter).

ComEd customers should look for Energy Star-rated air purifiers because there is a $50 rebate. Even if the manufacturer doesn’t specify or show the blue logo, it may still be rated, including the Coway Airmega 200S!

What I look for in an air purifier

  • Auto mode. I want the machine to have a sensor to turn itself on to clean the air when it detects the air is dirty, and to run at the fan speed commensurate with the dirtiness.
  • Eco or sleep mode. This runs the fan at an even slower speed and I use this when I’m not home.
  • Washable screen or pre-filter. This catches larger objects like dirt and hair and presumably prolongs the life of the other filters. It also satiates the desire to clean and know that things are clean after you’ve cleaned them.
  • HEPA filter. This should go without saying. If it doesn’t have this, it shouldn’t be labeled an air purifier.
  • Reasonable filter prices, and available. I am skeptical of the proliferation of identical looking air purifiers on Amazon and their ability to consistently stock replacement filters six months and 12 months from now. I don’t want to be in the position where I’m questioning if a given filter is the right one for my air purifier model.
  • Filtration rate, expressed as CADR (higher numbers are better). There are many ways that air purifier companies will describe this, the most common or first shown being the floor area of a room. The floor area, however, is not a filtration rate. My favorite way is when the manufacturer has a graphic showing how many air changes per hour the air purifier can manage.

In the graphic below, the air purifier was advertised as being able to cover a living area up to 1,837 s.f., which is the size of a four-bedroom apartment, but it could only change the air once per hour, which is too slow to respond to changes in air quality. On the other hand, in a 527 s.f. space, which is about the size of my studio apartment, the air purifier can manage five air changes per hour – I think that’s more than sufficient.

Which air purifier should you get

Note that many air purifiers have a “smart” option, which means they come with wifi and an app. Sometimes these apps connect to Google or Alexa voice assistants. Rarely will they connect with Siri, due to higher Apple licensing or certification costs. This is unnecessary but could be fun to use to track PM2.5 levels in your home if you don’t have a standalone air quality measuring device.

All models listed are Energy Star rated and are ones I would get my for studio apartment

IKEA also sells air purifiers but I haven’t determined if they are Energy Star rated.

ComEd customers can apply for their $50 rebate as soon as they purchase an Energy Star rated air purifier.

How ComEd customers can get a free portable induction cooktop

My check for $63.99 from ComEd arrived, so I can confidently say ComEd’s energy efficiency program works as advertised.

Induction cooktops are the ideal replacement for all other energy sources, whether a current stove uses gas or electricity to cook food.

  • They release no emissions or toxic chemicals like a gas-burning stove does.
  • They use less electricity and reach temperatures faster than a resistance electricity stove.

They’re ideal for households with children, who have developing brains and bodies that can be negatively affected by NOx and CO. (Read my previous blog post about this.)

How to get a free portable induction cooktop

  1. Buy an induction cooktop. (Keep in mind that the maximum rebate is $100, but appliances that cost more than $100 are eligible.) Wirecutter has recommendations. Amazon, Target, and Walmart, all sell decent to good models. In store, IKEA sells a house brand and 88 Marketplace in Pilsen sells at least one model.
  2. Submit the form, including your receipt, on ComEd’s dedicate website.
  3. Wait for the rebate check to arrive.
The Mueller brand portable induction cooktop I brought from Target, and the rebate check I received from ComEd for $63.99.

Zoning 101: Business live/work units

This is the first post in what might become a video series about the Chicago zoning code. I picked business live/work unit because they’re a rarely seen “use” (an establishment) in Chicago, likely in part due to how few buildings are zoned to allow them and that the rules setting their minimum size might make eligible spaces doubly harder to find.

There is no order! An authentic “Zoning 101” would probably start by describing zoning, but I’m assuming you know that Chicago has a zoning code that defines what can and cannot be built or practiced on every property in the city. Business live/work units are one of those many things the code defines and regulates.

A business live/work unit is distinguished from an artist live/work unit in the Chicago zoning code in that it allows more business types – i.e. more than the creation or practice of art is allowed – but it requires that they happen on the ground floor. Artist live/work units are allowed in more zoning districts as of right (no additional permission necessary) above the ground floor.

What do you want to learn about next? Leave a comment or @ me on Twitter (stevevance).

Links to the relevant parts of the Chicago zoning code: