Preliminary Short Project Proposal

A photo of mine of a solar charging system from Namibia.
A photo of mine of a solar charging system from Namibia.

There’s already a quick and, relatively, low cost way to setup a solar charging system in the home, but online step by step directions are fairly terrible:

I propose to build solar battery charging system, to write/record clear instructions, and to put them on instructables for people to find.

This would:

  1. Make existing information easier to find, so people can build their own and iterate on the idea.
  2. Make it easier to introduce energy diversity into a household.
  3. Provide the opportunity to create a new sexy gadget for consumers. (Assuming I can make my system super nice looking and cool)

I think that we are still in the ‘priming the market’ phase of consumer energy diversity. In addition to efforts to diversify city energy consumption, asking for solar and wind from ConEd for instance, I think that there is value to bringing the change into the home. Ideas and changes make more sense when people can see and touch them every day.

Temporary Expert – Week 3 Readings


A very prescient set of guidelines, but again, ideas spread better when people can understand wtf you are talking about. Also, perhaps limiting yourself to academics and industrialists made sense at the time but now it seems overly ivory tower or, I guess, modernist. Maybe that’s what makes this reading seem so old. The framework good, but it assumes a top down solution rather than a omnidirectional solution, bottom-up/side-to-side/top-down, which is how things work now.

Concept Maps

I like concept maps very much, and have been using them to organize my ideas before I really knew what they were. However, I think that it’s extremely important go into them will defined questions or parameters. Otherwise the map ends up very messy.

For example:


Now, I don’t mean to say that didn’t find this exercise useful, but that chart could definitely be easier to read if it were more focused.

The End of the Shale Gale

Is fracking a solved problem?

The price of Brent crude oil, the global benchmark, has been dropping for a year. This is largely the result of Saudi Arabia’s efforts, though OPEC, to kill competition from the US ‘Shale Gale’ on the global oil market (though lower demand from China is also a factor). OPEC has increased their production with the goal of driving US producers our out of business. At first US companies appeared to be weathering the rough market, but the sustained low prices are finally taking their toll. 60 oil companies have filed for bankruptcy and energy consultant IHS Inc suggests that there are up to 150 more that may follow suit. This doesn’t erase the existence of the wells are drilled already, but it does mean that pumping them and drilling new wells is not economically viable.

In order to make sure that US shale energy doesn’t strongly re-enter the market OPEC will have to keep the price of Brent crude at $50-70 a barrel, which they seem completely willing to do for the foreseeable future.

What’s next?

Petroleum products are going to be the main source of global energy for the foreseeable future (you can’t run a cargo ship on batteries), but consumer patterns are changing. Uber and Tesla are going a long way to change how people think about car ownership and fuel consumption. From what we can see now, we are a long way from the end of oil, but the conceptual groundwork is clearly being laid for consumers. We’ve gotten so used to our phones and computers running on batteries, it’s not a big conceptual leap to running our cars and homes from them as well. When the technology is ready, consumers will be ready too.

Right now, one of the most important things to do is to create demand. Look at Tesla, they are creating high end luxury cars both because the technology is still expensive and because the want to make a product that is exclusive and desirable. The more they can make people want the cars while they are rare the better. Electric cars have become the sexy alternative.

What other ways are there to introduce different energy products and energy diversity into the consumer mindset, if not the market?

Link Dump:

Tempory Expert – Wee 2 Readings

There probably isn’t one true theory of everything.

The most effective way to change someone’s mind and introduce new ideas is by talking to them.

Art is just as important as science in examining how our existence works.


One of the most important tools you have when trying to corral hearts and minds is your ground game, at least here in the US. Look at Donald Trump and the Iowa caucuses, he may have had the name recognition and crowds at his rallies but when it came to getting humans to the polls to vote for him, he fell short. Now Trump’s trying to spin this into someone else stiffing him out of a victory polls said was certain, but really there’s another lesson here. If you want people to care about something you care about enough to show up, you have to go talk them in person. When you’re winning converts, impersonal messaging only gets you so far. Ads, TV, viral campaigns, slacktivism, and all the rest may get you name recognition but it doesn’t get people to show up the way that looking them in the eye and listening to them speak does.


The law is the lowest common denominator everyone can live with, not a moral prescription. You can’t change things from the top down without some movement from the ground up.


If you want to change someone’s mind you need to be able to meet them where they are. You need to speak to them in their own language, within their own mental models.


When you’re trying to change someone’s mind about a complicated issue, don’t underestimate the value of a single story.
Nicholas Kristof: Want to Make a Difference? Tell a Compelling Story.

Temporary Expert – Week 1 Readings

Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene


“…a civilization in collapse, with a crippled infrastructure, unable to recuperate from shocks to its system.”

It’s impossible to argue that the future is going to be more unreliable and extreme than the past, but equating it to the shock and awe of the US Armed Forces in Iraq also seems excessive. It’s hard to argue against the author’s experiences, since he was on the ground in Baghdad and New Orleans, but it’s also hard for me to accept that the instability he witnessed in Baghdad and New Orleans will become the new normal. We are going through a series of rough lessons now, but it’s hard for me to imagine that we will not learn from them. The timescale of the invasion of Iraq and the creep of the Anthropocene are two totally different things.


I’m just responding to personal experiences with more personal experiences, but living through Hurricane Irene, Superstorm Sandy, and the recent Snowstorm Jonas I feel like I’m watching the shift in expectation and policy that life in the Anthropocene necessitates. The public reaction to Irene and Sandy seem especially revealing. The ‘no show’ of Irene was met with frustration and incredulity about future threats to the city, but Sandy wiped that smile off of everyone’s face. I think that, in New York at least, people are more willing to accept that there are going to be extreme events and that how we think of them needs to change, both in policy and in individual behavior. Now is the time to think about how institutional policy must be changed to make it more flexible and how citizen responsibility will need to fill in the gaps. We are going to need local and national governments that are prepared for the unknowable. We are also going to need to think about how individuals and households can be prepared. The future is going to have much so more anxiety and uncertainty than the past, but it’s not like we can’t live through it.



In what ways is it possible to introduce both government flexibility and citizen self reliance into how we think about society and government?

How do we put pressure on institutions to do better, while equipping ourselves to deal on a personal, human level? (Look at digging out Queens from the recent snowstorm for example. Could the city have had a better plan with existing resources, or do we need more snowploughs?)

Are there simple, multipurpose tools that can be introduced to help? Something that is the equivalent of a good sharp shovel, a workhorse with elegant design that can be used for many different things.

What does the aftermath of a hurricane look like now in somewhere like Florida, where they are normal? How does citizen preparedness meet government efforts?


Relevant Links:



“The biggest problem we face is a philosophical one: understanding that this civilization is already dead.”

This is the part of the article that I found much more compelling. The planet is dying, how do we mourn and memorialize the world that was as it passes in front of our eyes? Who is the audience for such memorials? People now, or people in the far away future? How do you commemorate the passing of a civilization? What is the precedent for something like this? How does everyone feel?


The Challenge of Responsible Design

“The science we have, and the technology we have both are always and inevitably a function not simply of ‘reality,’ but of where our attention happens to be focused.”

This is particularly striking to me. It’s something that I know is true, but it’s good to be reminded of it. I tend to be a practical thinker, interested in what is feasible in problem solving. I often find myself limiting my options to the possible, politic decision and find myself detracting from more far out ideas as being “unreasonable”. I think this is something that starkly limits my imagination of the future, not just in design projects but generally in my day to day life.


Design + Research

A lot of good points, but this is written as insufferable academic nonsense. Why write something this way? Why not just write something in a way that people can read it? Was this translated into English from another language, or what?

It is good to have criticism in design, but I think it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole. Spending too much time on criticism can be paralyzing to action, which so much design is based around. This might not even be relevant to my practise in this class. As the authors note: “Indeed, it might be difficult for interaction design – and perhaps even for design research – to rest on any singular or stable set of foundations.” The main focus of ‘practical’ criticism seems to be to make sure that your project is fit for its purpose as you’ve defined it, and to keep revisiting the definition. Being nimble in design practise seems more relevant than anything else.


Designing Interactions

Is interaction design actually meta design?
There are a number of interesting designs from Dunne and Raby, but it’s interesting that a lot of the books and writings that they cite as inspiration are already popsci books. It’s like they’re deriving a derivative, instead of reading research directly. I mean, it’s not like they don’t go back to hard research, but I can’t help but feel like their work is a little like ‘toy’ work. I see the value of rethinking these ideas, and even doing it in an ‘unreal’ way that pushes outside of our normal thinking, but I feel like I don’t know who the audience for this work is. Other designers? Scientists? How much do ‘normal people’ encounter work like this? They mentioned recruiting people for the placebo work through ads and other everyday means, but where does the work go after that? Into a design book somewhere?  (Aside, where does any work go ‘after’?)