Sunday, August 29, 2010

Blasts from the pasts

The fun theory: how doing "right" things can be made into enjoyable activities /or/ how to incentivise socially positive behaviours.

Ages ago, I blogged about the fun theory (or rolighetsteorin for the swedishly inclined): this was in their beta days when they had two projects and were just getting off the ground. Now they are (relatively) huge and have a growing community great deal of momentum behind them: they're crowd sourcing to come up with new ideas and are implementing a whole host of fun projects.

They're also taking on increasingly important topics. In the past they played with convincing people to take the stairs over the escalator and throwing trash in the bin, but these days it's about encouraging people to recycle and not to speed, all with novel ideas of how to incentivise these good behaviours.


I used to talk about the Happy Planet Index a lot, back when it was the Happy Planet Index 1.0, and I was still in college studying economics ):

The Happy Planet Index is based on the idea that we humans live for something that is not captured by measures we often get hung up on, like our personal income, and Gross Domestic Product. Indeed, humans live in the pursuit of things like happiness, health, love, whatever have you, but our often limited and sometimes misguided understanding of how to achieve them leads us to focus on our work and on measures of economic progress rather than how these means (not ends!) actually contribute to making us happy.

The greatest problem that this quite simple misunderstanding creates is our impact on the planet: humanity as a whole is producing too much stuff and pursuing much too aggressive economic growth at the expense of natural resources and the environment. And if we carry on at this rate, (quoting Sebastian) life is gonna be de bubbles under de sea.
HPI gives a way to link a country's consumption of natural resources and damage to the environment (which is pretty well correlated with GDP) to how happy, and how long its citizens live.
Translated: HPI gives a way to show how efficiently a country uses its available resources to build long and happy lives for its citizens.

This might be a good time to bring up Gross National Happiness (an oldie but a goodie), possibly the first concerted effort to base a country's (Bhutan's) economy not on production and growth, but the happiness of its citizens. I wonder how they're doing.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Une simple histoire

Yikes, I recently back-blogged five entries.

Also, past entries from India, etc. are now complete with pictures. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Montezuma Fuller vs. Muhammad Gandhi

Hippy hoppy

After visiting IDDS, I had a great week-and-a-half in Santa Fe and other places, NM. I stopped on the way back for claw fights atop Mesa Mentosa and camping at Ghost Ranch (one of the most beautiful places I've ever been), and happy fun times camping with the Stupin family in Colorado (on the way to and from IDDS). New Mexico is one of the most beautiful places on earth*.

I danced some tango in Santa Fe, which turned out to be really nice. Santa Fe (and surrounding area) has some great dancers, who are super friendly and sweet. I haven't been dancing so much lately, and I forgot how having awesome dances with just a few people can make my evening.

I drove up to Taos, NM with Laura Stup, Papa Stup, and Carla Tennenbaum (artist extraordinaire from Brazil, who was at the last two IDDSes) to see the Earthship office/visitor center.

Earthships are SUPER AMAZING!

There are a few basic principles of Earthships (Earthships are houses people live in). They (quoting Earthship Biotecture):

-Heat and cool themselves naturally via solar/thermal dynamics
-Collect their own power from the sun and wind
-Harvest their own water from rain and snow melt
-Contain and treat their own sewage on site
-Produce a significant amount of food
-Are constructed using the byproducts of modern society like cans, bottles and tyres

Whilst most of these principles are really quite common-sensical (from just a simple efficiency viewpoint), what is really impressive is how well the Earthship folks design and build an integrated system that efficiently and effectively accomplishes the design goals, and continue to improve and optimise their system as they gain knowledge and experience.

The best part? They claim to be pretty much on par with the cost of conventional construction, per square foot. This is a really powerful thing: people no longer need to make an economic sacrifice to achieve an ideal or principle goal.

(Photo by Carla)

This feels like the future to me: it's low impact, it's beautiful, it makes economic sense (of course, don't get me started on how I think that the true costs of producing goods and electricity and disposing of waste are not presented accurately to the consumer, encouraging people to live unsustainably), and, to use the words of the Earthship folks, if your pocket is deep enough [they] can design and build anything you want.

Still, I'm not one hundred percent satisfied with where Earthships are, just yet. There are two things that I'm just a little unsettled by:

The simpler of the two to explain is that many of their buildings use aluminium cans and glass bottles as "bricks"/filler material for concrete or adobe, to make walls. This is in line with their principles of using recycled materials, and also allows neat designs (in the case of bottles, it lets light pass through walls). I have a problem with them using cans in construction because aluminium is such a high value recyclable material. (glass does not have this feature) It takes a fraction of the energy to smelt new aluminium to melt down old aluminium and re-use it. And it takes a ton of energy to smelt new aluminium.

It just struck me as a little bit careless.

The second thing that unsettled me was a conversation between a visitor and a staff member. It wasn't quite a conflict as a clash of ideals: the visitor had a house that was hooked up to the electrical grid, had an array of solar panels and was able to sell electricity back to the grid (produce a surplus of energy) despite using electric stoves and electric heat. The staff didn't seem to approve of being connected to the grid, as if it might undermine the house's energy independence -- even though the house was actually energy positive, and Earthships rely on propane, a fossil fuel, for cooking and heating.

I didn't have a problem with the ideas put forth per se, but was surprised by the defensiveness and disapproval.

Still, final verdict: Earthships are super awesome! One day I'll live in a house that works just like that, harvests water and solar power and grows crops and has chickens (for eggs) and fish (for fish) which eat micro organisms that feed on the sewage stream of the house. Maybe goats?


All photo credits: Laura Stupin

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Open for business

I never wrote about IDDS, did I?

In 2009, I went to Ghana for the 3rd International Development Design Summit, which is all about designing for people in developing countries, who are traditionally overlooked by companies and industries that design and manufacture products and services.

It's estimated that 90% of all design work today serves 10% of the world's wealthiest people.

IDDS combines a few key principles, such as collaborative and participatory design, where the designers work with their end users to find the best specifications to suit them, and exchange of ideas: IDDS brings together people from many fields (doctors, farmers, mechanics, students, social workers...), countries, and all ages to work on the same problems.

That year, about ten (if I remember correctly) teams came up with ten prototypes of different technologies or products that were appropriate for different people in developing countries. The problem is, we had ten prototypes and very few plans for what we would do with them next. In fact, this happened with the first and second IDDSes as well.

This year, IDDS took place in Fort Collins, Colorado, and focused on developing (business) strategies for the distribution and dissemination of technologies. About ten (ish) teams took ten already-developed or prototype technologies and worked on strategies that would turn them into effective businesses that were financially viable and spread important and useful technologies to people who needed them most.

I was extremely impressed by the final presentations (check them out if you can!) at this IDDS; It was great to see that teams were very sure of themselves and knew exactly what they were going to do over the next five years.

I also got to talk (again) to Paul Polak (founder of IDE), a brilliant and visionary old man with a wicked sense of humour and no respect for anyone at all, who was delighted to hear I would be working with his old friend Bob Nanes at IDE Ghana come January 2011.