green posts

ChittahChattah Quickies October 25th, 2011

Dissident Creates by Remote Control [NYT.com] – Of course this is a political act as much as an artistic or commercial one (and some art theorist can probably explain why it must always be all three, yes?) but this seemed a novel application of remote collaboration software, at least in the way they’ve framed it.

In an unusual collaboration with W magazine, Ai Weiwi created a story line for a series of photos that were shot on location in New York by the photographer Max Vadukul as Mr. Ai looked on, art directing via Skype on a laptop computer. Mr. Vadukul would set up a shot and look to Mr. Ai for approval. “We could see him on the screen, scrolling through the images,” Ms. Solway said. “What was so interesting was his attention to every detail. There was this big shower in Rikers – we thought it looked very dingy, but he said the grout was way too clean and graphic.”

Don’t Blink! The Hazards of Confidence [NYT.com] – While the whole article primarily deals with the decisions that financial professionals make (scary scary stuff), the principles on judgement and decision-decision making feel sound, if challenging.

You are probably an expert in guessing your spouse’s mood from one word on the telephone; chess players find a strong move in a single glance at a complex position; and true legends of instant diagnoses are common among physicians. To know whether you can trust a particular intuitive judgment, there are two questions you should ask: Is the environment in which the judgment is made sufficiently regular to enable predictions from the available evidence? The answer is yes for diagnosticians, no for stock pickers. Do the professionals have an adequate opportunity to learn the cues and the regularities? The answer here depends on the professionals’ experience and on the quality and speed with which they discover their mistakes. Anesthesiologists have a better chance to develop intuitions than radiologists do.

Personal Eco-Concierges Ease Transition to Green [NYT.com] – Last year we did a research project that looked at “going green” as a journey. We met people at various stages along that transition and what their decisions were like at each of those stages. No surprise to see businesses appear explicitly aimed at facilitating the steps along that journey; indeed we identified other products and services that were or could speak to that goal – beyond usage to growth.

“The problem with going green is that people think it takes so much work, so much effort, so much conscious decision-making,” said Letitia Burrell, president of Eco-Concierge NYC, a year-old business in Manhattan that tries to make it easy for people to rid their homes of toxins, hire sustainable-cuisine chefs and find organic dry cleaners. It is a niche business, but a clever one. At least a half-dozen services of this type have sprung up around the country in recent years, both to help time-starved consumers manage their lives and to assuage the guilt of those who worry that they are letting the planet down. “There are people who come to us gung-ho and they want to make a sweeping lifestyle change,” said P. Richelle White, who left a corporate advertising job four years ago to start Herb’n Maid, a green cleaning and concierge service in St. Louis. “These are busy professionals who don’t have the time to do the research themselves about different products and services.”

Sexy, religious images spotted on new money [CBC News] – Getting feedback to designs before going to press is proven once again to be a good idea. Seems like a great application of a focus group, since the feedback needed is shallow and not very nuanced, although interesting to note that the social dynamics of a focus group limit the naturalness of that feedback – so much so that it made it into the report!

The Bank of Canada fretted that Canadians would find all kinds of unintended images on the new bills. So the bank used focus groups to spot “potential controversies.” “The overall purpose of the research was to disaster check the $50 and $100 notes among the general public and cash handlers,” says a January report to the central bank. Almost every group thought the see-through window looked like a woman’s body, but participants were often shy about pointing it out “However, once noted, it often led to acknowledgment and laughter among many of the participants in a group.” On the other side of the bill, there’s an image of a researcher at a microscope and a depiction of the double-helix structure of DNA. But the DNA strand evoked something else. A Vancouver focus group thought it was “a sex toy (i.e., sex beads).” Others thought it was the Big Dipper. There was no mistaking the microscope, but when focus groups flipped over the bill they noticed the edge of the instrument showed through like a weird birthmark on Borden’s cheek. Respondents also thought the former prime minister was either cross-eyed or that each eye was looking off in a different direction, the report says “Others felt that the PM’s moustache is unkempt.” Every focus group thought they saw religious iconography on the face of the Peace Tower clock. “It was often described as ‘The Star of David.’ Others referred to it as a ‘pagan’ or ‘religious’ symbol,'” the document says-Bank of Canada spokeswoman Julie Girard said the bills got tweaked after the focus groups. “Before and after those focus groups, there were design changes for multiple reasons,” she said.

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ChittahChattah Quickies April 4th, 2010
  • Life-Cycle Assessment of Book vs. e-Reader [NYTimes.com] – A life-cycle assessment evaluates the ecological impact of any product, at every stage of its existence, from the first tree cut down for paper to the day that hardcover decomposes in the dump. With this method, we can determine the greenest way to read…All in all, the most ecologically virtuous way to read a book starts by walking to your local library.
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ChittahChattah Quickies September 29th, 2009
  • Richard Eoin Nash, Social Publisher – What “social” means is that there’s going to be more information about books, more scope to interact with the books (your own commenting & annotating and reading others’), more scope to interact with the author, more scope to interact with one another. (This latter item, to get semi-techy for a sec, is something that the broad horizontal book social networks—Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari—do well, though, so we’re likely to focus on using their APIs rather than asking people to build their own bookshelves anew.)

    “Social” is taking the book and making it much easier to have a conversation with the book and its writer, and have conversations around the book and its writer.

  • L-Prize – Lighting Competition – I've written before in frustration about money spent to push the CFL at us instead of spending money solving the product problem. The DOE is sponsoring the L-Prize to create a low-energy bulb. "The competition also includes a rigorous evaluation process for proposed products, designed to detect and address product weaknesses before market introduction, to avoid problems with long-term market acceptance."
  • Princeton tests of Kindles for textbooks doesn’t go well for Kindle – “Much of my learning comes from a physical interaction with the text: bookmarks, highlights, page-tearing, sticky notes and other marks representing the importance of certain passages — not to mention margin notes, where most of my paper ideas come from and interaction with the material occurs,” he explained. “All these things have been lost, and if not lost they’re too slow to keep up with my thinking, and the ‘features’ have been rendered useless.”

    “For some people,” she explained, “electronic reading can never replace the functionality and ‘feel’ of reading off paper.”
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ChittahChattah Quickies April 25th, 2009
  • 100-WATT BULBS IN STOCK. (FOR HOW LONG WE DO NOT KNOW) – “Let some government official come in and tell me I can’t sell these,” Jonathan Wright, who has owned Classic Lighting for 40 years, said defiantly as he surveyed his warren of upscale light fixtures and shelves filled with neatly stacked bulbs. “I’ll find them wherever I can get them and sell them for whatever they cost. People are buying in bulk because they want them.”

    In the last two months he has sold 3,000 of the 100-watt bulbs — the traditional mainstay of British light fixtures — more than 30 times the usual. People are buying 10 at a time, the limit per customer, even though their price is nearly 50% higher than it was a year ago.

    Indeed, his customers have a litany of complaints. CFL light is too dim, especially for reading and putting on makeup, the bulbs, which are a bit longer than incandescents, protrude from small light shades; they take a long time to reach full brightness; they cannot be dimmed by switches; they contain mercury and require special disposal.

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Mixed Signals March 7th, 2009

cool
From a recent rental, here’s a dashboard indicator I’d never seen before. As far as I could figure out, while the car is warming up, the engine temperature light shows a green “cool” indicator. At least, it disappeared after a few minutes, so I concluded that was associated with the car warming up. We don’t want the engine to be too cold, and any indicator at all is perhaps a bad (or less good) thing, so it seemed to be a warning. But green is good, so is it good that it’s lit up? Is it good that the engine is cool? Is it bad when it goes out?

See more of my Vancouver pictures here.

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Getting around February 18th, 2009

cart
Man and boy, Chicago

The US auto industry now has its own crisis news page.

In a recent Daily Show interview, Jon Stewart and UC Davis transportation expert Daniel Sperling pondered the idea of using this crisis as an opportunity to put money into building a new, more sustainable transportation infrastructure.

A friend of mine has put down a deposit on the Aptera, but is unclear about when his car will be coming.

While all of the alternatives to gas-powered vehicles have their pros and cons, the current personal transportation model is providing clear feedback that it’s time for some divergent thinking on this topic.

What do people really want and need? Are there viable paradigms besides the “car-in-every-garage” (e.g. Zipcar, etc.)? How are systems as complex and socially/economically ingrained as the auto industry and vehicle infrastructure best addressed?

Related posts:
This year’s (business) models
Rage With The Machine
Cultural reverse engineering
Parody as time capsule

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Green? Ennh, problem solved. Almost? Um, not quite. May 1st, 2007

Greenwashing

is the unjustified appropriation of environmental virtue by a company, an industry, a government or even a non-government organisation to sell a product, a policy or to try and rehabilitate their standing with the public and decision makers after being embroiled in controversy.

Frankly, after some talks (more of the same stuff we’ve been hearing for a while) at the recent IDSA Shift conference I feel like designers and other eco-do-gooders are as guilty of greenwashing as the supposed evil corporate fat cats. We face a barrage of examples that are dramatically missing the real details. If you want to make the case that we need to solve the world’s problems, that’s one thing. If you want to make the case that design and designers are solving these problems, that’s another.

The barriers to innovation and change are political, financial, cultural, not a lack of smarts, gumption, or whizbang know-how.

Lifestraw should be familiar to many.
illustration01.gif
But as our friend Dina Mehta pointed out in a conversation last year in Bombay, the real problem is how to get people in rural areas to understand that water contains invisible poisons that they must avoid. Based on her work with and awareness of India’s rural population, she saw this as the bigger challenge.

But Lifestraw (and others like it) are presented as a fait accompli.

How many times have you seen some innovative design for a homeless shelter? Low ecological footprint, low cost, easy put up and take down, etc. Wonderful. Well, why do we still have homeless folks sleeping on the street? Oh, because what municipality is going to allow a built encampment? Let alone spend money and give land away for homeless people to live in. That’s a huge political challenge. I’m not suggesting the real problem is homelessness, but the real problem is how to get your solution adopted. But no one wants to talk about that.

Similarly, designers create something but emphasize that it’s biodegradable, as if that solves everything. But it doesn’t. Things that degrade leave material behind. If plastic bags biodegrade, you[‘ll have something left behind. We like our pretty graphics with ugly stinky machinery turning into happy flowers in gentle meadows, but that’s not really what happens. Biodegrade is an oversimplification that ignores some real consequences. The problem isn’t solved and presenting a solution implying that it is solved is the form of greenwashing that I’m getting fed up with.

You could make a similar point with claims (like those made by presenters at RISD) that “corn is renewable.” Ask Michael Pollan about the problems with corn.

The fact is that there’s a moral, ethical, technical, environmental, and social calculus beyond our ability to manage. How does one decide where to look at a problem and a potential solution. We can’t agree on paper vs. plastic or to-go cup vs. ceramic. This is Tenner-level complexity.

Eco-eager designers do their efforts a disservice but oversimplifying or denying this complexity. By misleading through omission, they echo the institutions they claim to be fighting against.

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I wanna push you around, well I will, I will January 5th, 2007

Recently, Rob Walker posted about Wal-Mart greenly pushing the the single-bulb-fluorescent (from the NYT) while Mike Wagner posted about how to help the Des Moines Kiwanis Club grow. The substance of the NYT piece and the response to the Wagner entry typify something that is increasingly surprising to me (but maybe shouldn’t be). People (at least in the corners of the blogosphere that I hang in) want to sell ideas. They want to persuade, influence, advertise, manipulate. I sometimes feel a lone voice in asking for i) a user-centered view of what the product or service could evolve to and ii) innovation and development to fix the problems in the product or service.

It’s easier to talk about how to push the idea out there, it seems.

Wal-Mart is working to get these bulbs adopted. But they know what people don’t like about the bulbs. How’s about working on that? I mean, jeez, you already know what the problem is! That seems like an easy one. And the suggestions for the Kiwanis group are strongly focused on how to attract members, without anyone trying to understand what (just to take one of many questions they need to be asking) the current members love about their experience with the organization. No doubt there’s a mismatch between what story is being told to prospective members and what story is desired by those prospective members, as another angle. But no, let’s just focus on how to shout about the existing story.

Push, push.

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