23 April 2011

Tasks vs Work - Why Work Doesn't Happen At Work

This all sounds horribly familiar! Anyone who has ever worked in an office will appreciate this - and laugh out loud in a number of places!

Sourced/excerpt from TED, November 2010

'So I'm going to talk about work, specifically why people can't seem to get work done at work, which is a problem we all kind of have...we have companies and non-profits and charities and all these groups that have employees or volunteers of some sort...

And so what they typically do is they decide that all these people need to come together in one place to do that work...And so these companies, they build offices. They go out and they buy a building, or they rent a building, or they lease some space, and they fill the space with stuff. They fill it with with tables, or desks, chairs, computer equipment, software, internet access, maybe a fridge, maybe a few other things, and they expect their employees, or their volunteers, to come to that location every day to do great work. It seems like it's perfectly reasonable to ask that.

However, if you actually talk to people and even question yourself, and you ask yourself, where do you really want to go when you really need to get something done? you'll find out that people don't say what businesses think they would say. If you ask people the question: where do you really need to go when you need to get something done? Typically you get three different kinds of answers. One is kind of a place or a location or a room. Another one is a moving object. And a third is a time.

So here's some examples. When I ask people - and I've been asking people this question for about 10 years - I ask them, "Where do you go when you really need to get something done?" I'll hear things like, the porch, the deck, the kitchen. I'll hear things like like an extra room in the house, the basement, the coffee shop, the library. And then you'll hear things like the train, a plane, a car - so the commute. And then you'll hear people say, "Well, it doesn't really matter where I am, as long as it's really early in the morning or really late at night or on the weekends." You almost never hear someone say the office. But businesses are spending all this money on this place called the office, and they're making people go to it all the time, yet people don't do work in the office.

What is that about? Why is that? Why is that happening? And what you find out is that, if you dig a little bit deeper, you find out that people - this is what happens - people go to work, and they're basically trading in their work day for a series of work moments. That's what happens at the office. You don't have a work day anymore; you have work moments. It's like the front door of the office is like a Cuisinart, and you walk in and your day is shredded to bits, because you have 15 minutes here and 30 minutes there, and then something else happens and you're pulled off your work, and you've got to do something else, then you have 20 minutes, then it's lunch. Then you have something else to do, then you've got 15 minutes, and someone pulls you aside and asks you this question. And before you know it, it's 5:00 pm, and you look back on day, and you realize that you didn't get anything done. I mean, we've all been through this. We probably went through it yesterday, or the day before, or the day before that. You look back on your day, and you're like, I got nothing done today. I was at work. I sat at my desk. I used my expensive computer. I used the software they told my to use. I went to these meetings I was asked to go to. I did these conference calls. I did all this stuff. But I didn't actually do anything. I just did tasks. I didn't actually get meaningful work done.

And what you find is that, especially with creative people - designers, programmers, writers, engineers, thinkers - that people really need long stretches of uninterrupted time to get something done. You cannot ask somebody to be creative in 15 minutes and really think about a problem. You might have a quick idea, but to be in deep thought about a problem and really consider a problem carefully, you need long stretches of uninterrupted time. And even though the work day is typically eight hours, how many people here have ever had eight hours to themselves at the office? How about seven hours? Six? Five? Four? When's the last time you had three hours to yourself at the office? Two hours? One, maybe. Very, very few people actually have long stretches of uninterrupted time at an office. And this is why people chose to do work at home, or they might go to the office, but they might go to the office really early in the day, or late at night when no one's around, or they stick around after everyone's left, or they go in on the weekends, or they get work done on the plane, or they get work done in the car or in the train because there are no distractions.

Now there are different kinds of distractions, but there aren't the really bad kinds of distractions that I'll talk about in just a minute. And this sort of whole phenomenon of having short bursts of time to get things done reminds me of another thing that doesn't work when you're interrupted, and that is sleep. I think sleep and work are very closely related. And it's not just that you can work while you're sleeping and you can sleep while you're working. That's not really what I mean. I'm talking specifically about the fact that sleep and work are phased based, or stage based events. So sleep is about sleep phases, or stages - some people call them different things. There's five of them, and in order to get to the really deep ones, the really meaningful ones, you have to go through the early ones. And if you're interrupted while you're going through the early ones - if someone bumps you in bed, or if there's a sound, or whatever happens - you don't just pick up where you left off.

If you're interrupted and woken up, you have to start again. So you have to go back a few phases and start again. And what ends up happening - sometimes you might have days like this where you wake up at eight in the morning, or seven in the morning, or whenever you get up, and you're like, man, I didn't really sleep very well. I did the sleep thing - I went to bed, I laid down - but I didn't really sleep. People say you go to sleep, but you really don't go to sleep, you go towards sleep. It just takes a while; you've got to go through these phases and stuff. And if you're interrupted, you don't sleep well. So how do we expect - does anyone here expect someone to sleep well if they're interrupted all night? I don't think anyone would say yes. Why do we expect people to work well if they're being interrupted all day at the office? How can we possibly expect people to do their job if they're going to the office to be interrupted? That doesn't really seem like it makes a lot of sense to me.

So what are these interruptions that happen at the office that don't happen at other places? Because in other places, you can have interruptions, like, you can have the TV, or you could go for a walk, or there's a fridge downstairs, or you've got your own couch, or whatever you want to do. And if you talk to certain managers, they'll tell you that they don't want their employees to work at home because of these distractions. They'll also say - sometimes they'll also say, "Well, if I can't see the person, how do I know they're working?" which is ridiculous of course, but that's one of the excuses that managers give. And I'm one of these managers. I understand; I know how this goes. We all have to improve on this sort of thing. But oftentimes they'll cite distractions. "I can't let someone work at home. They'll watch TV. They'll do this other thing." It turns out that those aren't the things that are really distracting. Because those are voluntary distractions. You decide when you want to be distracted by the TV. You decide when you want to turn something on. You decide when you want to go downstairs or go for a walk. At the office, most of the interruptions and distractions that really cause people not to get work done are involuntary. So let's go through a couple of those.

Now, managers and bosses will often have you think that the real distractions at work are things like Facebook and Twitter and Youtube and other websites. And in fact, they'll go so far as to actually ban these sites at work. Some of you may work at places where you can't get to these certain sites. I mean, is this China? What the hell is going on here? You can't go to a website at work, and that's the problem, that's why people aren't getting work done, because they're going to Facebook and they're going to Twitter? That's kind of ridiculous. It's a total decoy. And today's Facebook and Twitter and Youtube, these things are just modern-day smoke breaks. No one cared about letting people take a smoke break for 15 minutes 10 years ago, so why does everyone care about someone going to Facebook here and there, or Twitter here and there, or Youtube here and there? Those aren't the real problems in the office.

The real problems are what I like to call the M&M's, the managers and the meetings. Those are the real problems in the modern office today. And this is why things don't get done at work, it's because of the M&M's. Now what's interesting is, if you listen to all the places that people talk about doing work - like at home, or in a car, or on a plane, or late at night, or early in the morning - you don't find managers and meetings; you find a lot of other distractions, but you don't find managers and meetings. So these are the things that you don't find elsewhere, but you do find at the office. And managers are basically people whose job it is to interrupt people. That's pretty much what managers are for, they're for interrupting people. They don't really do the work, so they have to make sure everyone else is doing the work, which is an interruption. And we have a lot of managers in the world now. And there's a lot of people in the world now. And there's a lot of interruptions in the world now because of these managers. They have to check in: "Hey, how's it going? Show me what's up," and this sort of thing. And they keep interrupting you at the wrong time, while you're actually trying to do something they're paying you to do, they tend to interrupt you.

That's kind of bad. But what's even worse is the thing that managers do most of all, which is call meetings. And meetings are just toxic, terrible, poisonous things during the day at work. We all know this to be true. And you would never see a spontaneous meeting called by employees; it doesn't work that way. The manager calls the meeting, so the employees can all come together, and it's an incredibly disruptive thing to do to people - is to say, "Hey look, we're going to bring 10 people together right now and have a meeting. I don't care what you're doing. Just, you've got to stop doing what you're doing, so you can have this meeting." I mean, what are the chances that all 10 people are ready to stop? What if they're thinking about something important? What if they're doing important work? All of a sudden you're telling them that they have to stop doing that to do something else. So they go into a meeting room, they get together, and they talk about stuff that doesn't really matter usually. Because meetings aren't work. Meetings are places to go to talk about things you're supposed to be doing later.

But meetings also procreate. So one meeting tends to lead to another meeting and tends to lead to another meeting. There's often too many people in the meetings, and they're very, very expensive to the organization. Companies often think of a one-hour meeting as a one-hour meeting, but that's not true, unless there's only one person in that meeting. If there are 10 people in the meeting, it's a 10-hour meeting, it's not a one-hour meeting. It's 10 hours of productivity taken from the rest of the organization to have this one one-hour meeting, which probably should have been handled by two or three people talking for a few minutes. But instead, there's a long scheduled meeting, because meetings are scheduled the way software works, which is in increments of 15 minutes, or 30 minutes, or an hour. You don't schedule an eight-hour meeting with Outlook. You can't. I don't even know if you can. You can go 15 minutes or 30 minutes or 45 minutes or an hour. And so we tend to fill these times up when things should really go really quickly.

So meetings and managers are two major problems in businesses today, especially to offices. These things don't exist outside of the office. So I have some suggestions to remedy the situation. What can managers do -- enlightened managers, hopefully -- what can they do to make the office a better place for people to work, so it's not the last resort, but it's the first resort? It's that people start to say, "When I really want to get stuff done, I go to the office." Because the offices are well-equipped, everything should be there for them to do their work, but they don't want to go there right now, so how do we change that? I have three suggestions I'll share with you guys. I have about three minutes, so that'll fit perfectly.

We've all heard of the casual Friday thing. I don't know if people still do that. But how about no-talk Thursdays...nobody in the office can talk to each other. Just silence, that's it. And what you'll find is that a tremendous amount of work actually gets done when nobody talks to each other. This is when people actually get stuff done, is when no one's bothering them, when no one's interrupting them. And you can give someone - giving someone four hours of uninterrupted time is the best gift you can give anybody at work. It's better than a computer. It's better than a new monitor. It's better than new software, or whatever people typically use. Giving them four hours of quiet time at the office is going to be incredibly valuable...'

22 April 2011

On Being Wrong

Sourced from TED, April 2011

'Most of us will do anything to avoid being wrong. But what if we're wrong about that? "Wrongologist" Kathryn Schulz makes a compelling case for not just admitting but embracing our fallibility'

The Cooking, Eating and Business of Shared Food

Another stunningly wonderful piece, reposted in full from Shareable, 19 April 2011

'For conscious eaters, the dinner table is composed of thoughtfully sourced ingredients – local, organic, sustainable, etc. However, for many of us, quality food isn’t enough. Today, the chairs around the table and the people, often strangers, who fill them are equally concerned about the integrity of the food’s path to the plate and the community built upon that plate.

Growing and producing food – from cooking it and consuming it to making a profit from it – have become collaborative in unprecedented and innovative milestones. Eating has become a political/conceptual – even, dare I say it, socialist! – act delving deeply into peer-production and egalitarian, off-the-grid practices in labor and profit.

Food eaters everywhere are beginning to question and transform the meaning of a commercial kitchen space and the elasticity of a restaurants’ four walls. Demand for quality, sustainable ingredients on the table has transformed they way we’ve thought about food for the past few decades. And now, food eaters and culinary thinkers alike are growing increasingly more concerned with the issues and circumstances surrounding their food’s production, distribution, preparation, and consumption.

Communal Food Production

Why toil behind a hot stove alone? While collaborative cooking has gone the way of the farmhouse in recent decades, urbanites have once again realized the benefits of cooking together for communal benefit. With the elevated interested in canning produce, jams, and even trotters and anchovies, canning instructor Anya Feral organized Yes We Can, a group of newbie canners banded together buying directly from local farmers and learning to put food by. Participants from the canning club walk away with finished cases of canned produce to enjoy beyond the season, and a new skill to practice at home to stock their own pantry.

But one cannot live on canned peaches alone. Why not take the group production model and create a whole meal? Three Stone Hearth in Berkeley, Calif. is one of many Community Supported Kitchens (CSKs) to sprout in recent years, along with Salt, Fire & Time in Portland, Ore. and Local Sprouts in Portland, Maine, among others in development in Chicago and elsewhere. Just as the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) was a boon to farmers who sold “shares” of their harvest to regular members no matter what the yield, CSKs also seek membership to keep the kitchen fires burning. Members pay in advance to receive regular installments of slow-cooked broths, fermented pickles, hearty whole grain salads, and much more, all of which stems from local agriculturists and producers, some of which relies on member-volunteers to prepare or deliver it.

If any of this is too much commitment for you, why not simply host a picnic, invite a few strangers to a local park, and agree to share the food that you’ve brought on a sunny Sunday afternoon? Such is the concept of EatWithMe.com in Melbourne, Australia. Participants use the website to organize a food-centric social event to meet, converse, and dip a chip or two into a neighbor’s salsa.

For the less crunchy set, get-together cook-togethers are also on-trend, and commercial enterprises such as the burgeoning Dream Dinners are on the rise nationwide. Participants gather at one of the enterprise's dozens of locations and assemble family meals for the week from pre-selected recipes and pre-chopped ingredients. The atmosphere is nearly club-like with music and snacks provided; attendees simply grab a container and start packing their meals for the week.

Swapping Together

Surely all of this food production has made you hungry. But there’s never a need to eat alone when there are so many shared plates, shared tables, and newfangled twists on potlucks to devour.

If the suburban vibe of Dream Dinners isn’t your thing, why not DIY in your own kitchen? Consider the model of Australia’s MamaBake, where mamas gather in home kitchens, make a mass of grub in tandem, and then swap ready-to-eat meals after a splendid afternoon collaborating in the kitchen. Or, Cook Here and Now in San Francisco, Austin, and Melbourne goes upscale of the casserole and focuses instead on producing one excellent meal from many hands. This effort of random participants is a collaborative cooking club that shares a large, rented, commercial kitchen. Cooks/diners bring all of their own equipment and ingredients (Don’t forget the wine!), prep an excellent food lover’s meal, and then sit down and enjoy it around a very large table together. Take the notions of soggy potluck pasta salad and throw it to the curb.

Wanna trade your PB&J for my tuna salad? The concept of the swap has homemade foodstuffs flying off of our own pantry shelves. From soup to complete dinners for two, baby food (hosted by yours truly) to jars of pickles, the proliferation of the food swap has us feeding one another in abundance. A great hub of these happenings occurs at 18 Reasons, a food-centric arts and community center in the heart of San Francisco, where food eaters trade everything from pureed carrots to BPA-free quarts of mulligatawny. And the homemade food swaps of L.A., Oakland, Portland, Austin, Louisville, etc. will allow those with too much quince chutney to broker a deal with their neighbors shelving too much arugula from their garden, homemade English muffins, infused lemon vodka, or homemade salsa. In this culinary dating game, every pot finds its lid.

Collaborative Food Business

Meeting your neighbors is all well and good, but it’s also possible to turn a profit in the new ethics and economy of eating together. It used to be that restaurateurs set out the checkered table cloth and a shingle, and a neighborhood eatery was born. But, alas, a slumped economy, an interest in DIY cooking, and a rise in supporting the independent entrepreneur have given rise to a number of restaurant alternatives that alleviate hefty start-up costs and have food sleuths trekking all over the urban landscape for a great bowl of curry, an astounding Korean taco, a truly homemade pastrami sandwich, or exploring the previously uncharted waters of “gobs”.

The mid-2000s gave rise to the food cart, a long-standing staple of Asian street food life that has at last caught on in America’s food-forward cities (San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York). Food is fast, cheap, cooked fresh, and, more often than not, delicious. And, of course, the initial business investments of a mobile food vehicle are a fraction of what it would cost to open a traditional restaurant, allowing a more egalitarian spectrum of aspiring chefs to stand at the stove. What’s more, food carts buoy one another for their success, collaborating to stage makeshift marketplaces of a half-dozen vendors of more, giving diners that mall food courts sensation of diversity, variety, and value.

The small-scale food producer has come of age in other ways, too. Much as artists and craftspeople have enjoyed a co-operative retail model to sell paintings, hand-painted t-shirts, and jewelry, food producers, such as those behind San Francisco’s 311 Cortland, have joined forces and shared the financial risk to operate a small food co-op market of handmade artisan goods. Cookie and cupcake makers, snack chip masters, jammers, picklers, et al also learn to sell their wares through communal commercial kitchen spaces like La Cocina (offering regular classes, marketplace events, and small business operations training), and more under-the-law venues like the periodic Underground Farmers' Market, a flea market of homemade and handmade edibles both jarred (grapefruit and tarragon jam) and ready-to-eat (barbecued pork shoulder on homemade brioche bun). Even home cooks are getting in on the action. In Paris, web hub SuperMarmite allows those with extra portions of their home cooked dinner to connect to those locals who didn’t have time to cook. Rather than ordering restaurant take-out, participants can buy a serving of their neighbor’s cassoulet or stuffed pork chops. Operations such as this are win-win: You get dinner, and I get to play chef and enjoy some extra cash. Suddenly the line between chef and patron has completely blurred.

For those who wish to play chef on a larger scale (or for those who are actual chefs who only wish to be in the game temporarily), why not jump the pop-up restaurant bandwagon? Those who cook – chefs, caterers, or those who aspire to either – are renting out restaurants during off-peak times, crafting their own menu, producing their own food, and spearheading their own advertising in the hopes of bringing in enough diners to fuel their restaurant-ownership dreams for a night. Imagine an episode of Top Chef’s restaurant wars for fun and profit. And the benefits are manifold: existing restaurants make money on formerly dark nights; wannabe chefs have the benefit of a venue and restaurant ownership without commitment; and diners in-the-know get to enjoy experimental eats and bragging rights to have tasted what’s new and now. In San Francisco, the concept has spread like wildfire, launching The Corner, a well-located, all-pop-up venue with a revolving chef roster in the city’s bustling Mission District.

What else is popping up in the world of collaborative eating? We can only guess. But surely it will continue to feed our growing desire to bring our ethics, our experiments, and our demands for food quality as well as cohesiveness to the table... and to challenge the meaning of what a truly shared table really is.'

21 April 2011

Being Yourselves

Neuroscientist David Eagleman's talk on the multiple selves of the brain - some great stories and insights in this one!

Sourced from The School of Life, April 2011

'If the conscious mind—the part you consider you—is just the tip of the iceberg in the brain, what is all the rest doing? Why can you argue with yourself, cajole yourself, and get angry at yourself? Who, exactly, is dealing with whom? Is there a single true you, or is that just an illusion?

Neuroscientist David Eagleman, is here to show how your brain is like a conflicted democracy engaged in civil war. Perhaps more importantly, he’ll also tell you how you can learn strategies to manage the battles.'

20 April 2011

Economics and Our Human Nature - David Korten

Reposted in full from YES! Magazine, 12 April 2011

'The successful function of mature democracies, caring communities, and living economies requires caring, mature, and responsible citizens who care not only for their own well-being, but as well for that of their neighbor. Given the experience of human history, many will ask with good reason whether this might be contrary to human nature.

We humans are complex beings with many possibilities. Empire has demonstrated our capacity for extremes of individualistic greed, hubris, deceit, ruthless competition, and material excess. Yet most people daily demonstrate our human capacity for caring, sharing, peacemaking, and service.

The former are the possibilities of our lower nature; the latter, the possibilities of our higher nature. Contrary to what morally challenged market fundamentalists would have us believe, both are within our means. What in fact makes us distinctively human is our capacity to choose which of our many possibilities will define us as individuals and societies.

We humans have a complex three-part brain. At the base is our “reptilian” brain.

It coordinates basic functions, such as breathing, hunting and eating, reproducing, protecting territory, and engaging the fight-or-flight response. These functions are essential to survival and they are part of our nature. The are not, however, characteristic of our human nature, but rather of our reptilian nature—defined by the most primitive and least-evolved part of our brain.

Layered on top of the reptilian brain is the limbic or “mammalian” brain, the center of the emotional intelligence that gives mammals their distinctive capacity to experience emotion, read the emotional state of other mammals, bond socially, care for their children, and form cooperative communities.

The third and, in adult humans, largest layer is the neocortical brain, the center of our capacity for cognitive reasoning, symbolic thought, awareness, and highly developed self-aware volition. The neocortical brain is the source of our capacity for choice, including our capacity for moral choice, and our capacity to decide whether to create an economy that celebrates and rewards our reptilian nature or our distinctively human nature.

Most of the development of the limbic and neocortical brains essential to actualizing the capacities that make us most distinctively human occurs after birth and depends on lifelong learning acquired through our interactions with family, community, and nature. Developmental psychologists describe the healthy pathway to a fully formed human consciousness as a progression from the self-centered, undifferentiated magical consciousness of the newborn to the fully mature, inclusive, and multidimensional spiritual consciousness of the wise elder.

Scientists who use advanced imaging technology to study brain function confirm that the mature human brain is wired for caring, cooperation, and service. Their studies reveal that merely thinking about another person experiencing harm triggers the same reaction in a mentally healthy adult brain as that of a mother who sees distress on her baby’s face.

Conversely, engaging in an act of cooperation and generosity triggers the brain’s pleasure center to release the same hormone that’s released when we eat chocolate or engage in good sex. In addition to producing a sense of bliss, this hormone benefits our health by boosting our immune system, reducing our heart rate, and preparing us to approach and soothe.

Positive emotions like compassion produce similar benefits. Negative emotions, by contrast, suppress our immune system, increase our heart rate, and shift us into reptilian mode prepared to fight or flee.

It is entirely logical that we humans have an instinctual desire to cooperate and protect the group. We are helpless as infants and even as adults are individually weak. As a group, however, we are the strongest of Earth’s living creatures. This in turn creates a moral obligation to use this power responsibly for the good of the whole. These findings are further confirmed by the pleasure that most of us experience being a member of an effective team or extending an uncompensated helping hand to another being.

Behaviors driven by our lower, more narcissistic, orders of consciousness are perfectly normal for young children, but they become sociopathic in adults and are easily manipulated by advertisers, propagandists, and political demagogues. Tragically, persons who have been thwarted on the path to maturity are those most likely to engage in the ruthless competition for positions of unaccountable power—and to abuse that power when they succeed.

Just as we have chosen to create economies that reward and celebrate the sociopathic greed and ruthless competition of our reptilian nature, we can and must now create economies that nurture and reward the caring, sharing, peacemaking, and service of our distinctively human nature.'

If Cars and Cities Were to Evolve Together

Ecocity Builders's Richard Register plants an interesting idea in the consciousness of car companies - just as fossil fuel companies need to evolve into energy utilities, can car companies evolve into '
whole systems transportation/infrastructure companies'?

Reposted in full from Ecocity Builders, 29 October 2010

The following article by Ecocity Builders President Richard Register will be appearing in the upcoming edition of Nissan Technology Magazine

'I'm the author of books on "ecocities," head of some local ecological restoration projects and a speaker on the international circuit. By ecocities I mean simply cities that are ecologically healthy, that leave the biological world happily buzzing along while we humans do whatever we do best in our built environments of cities, towns and villages and in moving about and utilizing the countryside while protecting nature - mostly from us.

I don't have to tell many audiences these days that climate is changing rapidly now and in dangerous directions, that biodiversity is sliding from high to lower every day, that humanity is drawing down resources rapidly in many areas from finite energy stores to digging up, using and losing considerable amounts of finite minerals for our metals, and failing to recycle efficiently.

In thinking of the next twenty-five years for Nissan and its publications' readers, I have to admit, I am not optimistic. The basic ideas I've been advancing for forty years have not yet caught on, have barely started the journey. So instead of trying to predict I'll simply say what I think is the problem and what I would like to see as the solution - and car companies' role in the solution.

It starts with whole systems thinking. Car companies should become whole systems transportation/-infrastructure companies, bifurcating their moveable products into cars so much smaller they become carts - that's right - essentially carts like improved golf carts, on one hand, and train systems large and small plus elevators and conveyor belts sometimes called "people movers" like we see in airports. Transport and city development needs close coordination with architecture, plazas and parks and streets and rails. A small number of what we think of as cars today would still be needed for rural work and living and available as rentals for city and town people wanting to get to places in the country far from small towns with train stations.

The conventional car is about 30 times as heavy as a person, 10 times as fast in optimal operation and takes up about 50 times the volume. To say the least, it doesn't mix well with pedestrians and bicycles. It demands hundreds of acres per city for parking lots and whole extra buildings called parking structures stuffed into city infrastructures scattering everything farther apart making everything work worse for foot, bike and transit.

Another important point: the presently understood better car actually makes the city worse - and takes the world down with it. The car does not stand alone; it is integral to the buildings and their arrangement and to the street and energy systems. To improve the car simply continues the pattern of sprawling development and all the harms that go with it. If it's energy efficient, it is most efficient in convincing its owner he or she is "green" while perpetuating a disastrous urban form. It would be a sad day for most car companies to wake up to this notion, which I take to be a reality, without realizing that they could become companies to coordinate far better urban development with transport. They could turn out to be thriving and profitable endeavors after all serving society and nature alike, but only if remissioned, retooled and retrained to participate in building ecocities, perhaps even taking the lead. There is no one like the reformed to lead with enthusiasm and effectiveness. The story of their conversion is powerful.

The ecological city, the "ecocity," would be much more compact - think Manhattan, downtown Tokyo, or at the other end of the size scale, compact pedestrian European villages where buildings are no more than five or six stories high. Ecocities are three-dimensional, not essentially flat like most American cities excepting their central business districts. Ecocities are cities primarily for pedestrians, supported by bicycles and transit the best of which would be rail from streetcars to metro systems.

But they would go beyond models we see in the general layout of compact cities of separate buildings, the European old city model, for example, by beginning to stitch the buildings together in whole systems design featuring extreme pedestrian permeability - access three-dimensionally through the city. This means there would be bridges between buildings with rooftop "uses" like shops and restaurants, mini-parks and plazas on rooftops and rooftop gardens for native species of birds, some food gardens, though not high volume production relative to the number of people obviously, but educational for the children - and all this with fantastic views over the city and surrounding landscapes. Systems of bridges for bicycles and monorail-like connections fit too in the larger city context, connecting those rich, verdant pedestrian environments hanging in the sky.

This configuration of the physical structure - clusters of buildings linked on ground level and one or more levels above ground level arranged around streets, parks and plazas uses radically less land, as well as energy, than the car/sprawl/paving infrastructure we see so dominant today and growing rapidly in many countries. Ecocity design means natural landscape and agriculture can come back into close relationship to the city. Just take an elevator - I encourage adventurous glass elevators on the outside of some buildings for pleasure rides - walk a few short blocks and be in the country. Ecocity wholes systems design also applies at all scales.

I've been in some villages in Nepal, Turkey and Northern Italy that are only four or five blocks long and wide and yet have buildings six or seven stories high, infrastructure providing for enough people to have a very lively cultural life, plus hosting a small hotel or two for very personal connection to the outside world. Think in addition to such structures attached solar greenhouses and those bridge linkages and roof and terrace experiences.

So as part of a coordinated enterprise understood by people everywhere, we can well imagine car companies joining, even leading, a larger program of coordinated parts in which the city is stitched together in the ecocity way and a healthy future is launched.'

19 April 2011

The Great Disruption - Paul Gilding

Paul Gilding's talk on his new book, 'The Great Disruption', to the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce in London (audio only)

Sourced from the RSA, 13 April 2011

'Paul Gilding is an independent writer, advisor and advocate for action on climate change and sustainability.

An activist and social entrepreneur for 35 years, his personal mission and purpose is to lead, inspire and motivate action globally on the transition of society and the economy to sustainability. He pursues this purpose across all sectors, working around the world with individuals, businesses, NGOs, entrepreneurs, academia and government.

He has served as CEO of a range of innovative NGO’s and companies including Greenpeace International, Ecos Corporation and Easy Being Green. He has also helped to establish and served on the board of a number of new NGOs including Inspire Foundation, the Australian Business Community Network and Climate Coolers. His speaking and work has taken him to over 30 countries including the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, South America, Europe, South Africa, the USA and Mexico.

Paul believes we are now in a global ecological and economic crisis that will lead to a period of major global economic transformation. As he advocated in his 2005 letter Scream Crash Boom and his 2008 update The Great Disruption, he sees this crisis driven change as an enormous opportunity to build a new approach to economic and social development for humanity.'

Requiem for a Species

Sourced from Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2 November 2010

'At the Byron Bay Writers' Festival 2010, Clive Hamilton and Ian Lowe speak with passion, and without doubt, about Australia's bleak future in the face of global warming, about their time rallying against the sceptics in the hope of bringing about societal change.

Both professors go straight to the heart of the matter, addressing the fact that society in general is to blame, for its inner consumer-capitalist denial of our environmental destruction, with Hamilton warning that we need to reach a 'tipping point' of realisation within the next five years to avoid disastrous consequences.

According to Clive Hamilton, coming to terms with the fact that the climate change horse has bolted was the main driver behind his new book "Requiem For A Species" and, in the process of writing it, he went through his own complex process of mourning for our lost future.

Lowe is more optimistic about "the defining moral issue of our time", as he calls for a 'mutiny' of sorts from the public to rally against political and corporate players showing no concern for the undeniable science involved.

The discussion is moderated by ABC tv journalist, Chris Masters.

Unfortunatley there were technical problems on the day, so the audio is poor quality.

Clive Hamilton is an Australian author and public intellectual. In June 2008 he was appointed Professor of Public Ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, a joint centre of the Australian National University, Charles Sturt University and the University of Melbourne. For 14 years, until February 2008, he was the executive director of The Australia Institute, a progressive think tank he founded.
He has published on a wide range of subjects but is best known for his books, a number of which have been best-sellers. They include "Growth Fetish", "Affluenza", "What's Left: The death of social democracy", "Silencing Dissent and Scorcher: The dirty politics of climate change" and "The Freedom Paradox: Towards a post-secular ethics" along with his most recent book, "Requiem for a Species". In June 2009 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia for his service to public debate and policy development, and in December 2009 he was the Greens candidate in the by-election for the federal seat of Higgins.

Professor Ian Lowe AO is president of the Australian Conservation Foundation, emeritus professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University in Brisbane, as well as being an adjunct professor at Sunshine Coast University and Flinders University. "A Voice of Reason: Reflections on Australia's Future" is Lowe's latest book. It profiles Lowe's essays and opinion pieces on the environment, culture, science, politics, education, technology and Australia's economy, along with new pieces on Copenhagen 2009 and Australia's chance for survival in this new century. His previous books include "A Big Fix and Living in the Hothouse". Lowe has been a referee for the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, attended the Geneva and Kyoto conferences of the parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change and was a member of the Australian delegation to the 1999 UNESCO World Conference on Science. He attended the UN convention in Copenhagen in December 2009.

Christopher Masters is a multi-Walkley Award winning and Logie Award winning Australian journalist and author. He commenced working on ABC television's flagship public affairs program Four Corners in 1983 and has since become the program's longest serving reporter. His first program was the landmark "Big League", a 1983 investigation of judicial corruption, which helped bring about the Street Royal Commission. Masters is a Gold Walkley Award winner, for his 1985 Four Corners report "French Connections" about the infamous sinking of the Rainbow Warrior. Another famous Four Corners report by Masters, "The Moonlight State" from 1987, led to the Fitzgerald Inquiry into corruption in Queensland. Masters has written three books to date. His first "Inside Story", published in 1992, told of the stories behind some of his Four Corners programs. His second, "Not for Publication", published in 2002, again dealt with his television work.'

Climate Change 101 - A Venn Diagram

Created by yours truly...

18 April 2011

Open Source Agriculture - Coming to a City Near You

Reposted in full from Grist, 12 April 2011

'Most people attempting to build a viable urban agriculture business are acutely aware of the enormously challenging and time-consuming process of navigating zoning regulations. Having worked in this sector, I can personally testify that the process is tedious and time-sucking. Over the past couple of years, a number of cities such as New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Chicago have begun enacting, or at the very least exploring, new regulations. One of the major challenges facing policymakers, however, is identifying effective policies and best practices.

Which is why I got excited when I learned about Washington, D.C.-based John Reinhardt and the urban agriculture zoning and food sovereignty ordinance maps recently launched on his blog Grown in the City. Among other things covered, Reinhardt and his cousin Bob Wall are using technology to help people understand urban agriculture and food sovereignty policy approaches across the United States. Grown in The City's new iTools column focuses on educating urban agriculturists of all kinds on how they can use open source technology to better communicate food policy and urban planning data, reviews tools, and highlights other resourceful websites.

My interview with Reinhardt gives insight into the maps, why open-source data is crucial for optimizing policy decision-making, and the food and tech trends that he's most excited about.

Q. How did an urban planner get interested in food and tech?

A. I've always been interested in a variety of topics: gardening, food, media, technology, sociology, architecture...I think it's partly why I became an urban planner (an interdisciplinary profession that potentially touches on all of these topics and more). So, I think a better way to answer your question is that I became interested in urban planning through my interests in food and tech (and everything else related to cities).

Growing up in Staten Island, my family kept a kitchen garden, and this made a huge impression on me. At the same time, four years at a science and tech high school, followed by an undergrad in interdisciplinary humanities and communication gave me all the skills to succeed as an urban planner - which included courses in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), computer graphics, database analysis, and other "techie" things.

It wasn't until the end of my formal urban planning coursework at Penn that I discovered the burgeoning specialty of food systems planning, through the work of Domenic Vitiello, who guest lectured in a sustainable development class. My interest in the topic led me to start Grown in the City, which sits squarely at the intersection of food systems, urban planning, design, gardening, and policy.

Q. Could you tell us about Grown In The City's weekly iTools column?

A. The weeky iTools column is a chance to explicitly link the urban agriculture community and the technology community. As I've seen over the past few years, many large companies such as IBM, Seimens, and GE are starting to focus on "smart city" technology. At the same time, individuals now have the tools to develop iPhone applications, websites, blogs, and other outlets to share information. iTools is the nexus between the techology, the policy, and the practice.

The column is written by Bob Wall, a veteran programmer, who saw a gap between the users and creators of technology. He'll be covering a variety of topics - how to integrate open source technology into food policy and planning blogs, reviews of applications that make urban gardening easier, and even highlights of other websites that are using neat technologies (and how they're doing it). It is hopefully a very empowering column for people who may not have much of a tech background and an eye opener for those who do.

Q. What are your goals with the "Interactive Urban Agriculture Zoning Map" and "Interactive Food Sovereignty Ordinance Map"? Why did you choose mapping as a medium for achieving these goals?

A. The interactive maps were designed to track the urban agriculture zoning and food sovereignty movements. As an urban planner, you learn that how you communicate data is extremely important, and the clean, easy-to-use maps provide immediate visual information (e.g., which states have the most ordinances) while making the information easy to access (just click on your state!). For example, by looking at the Urban Ag Zoning map, you can quickly see that there aren't many policies in the Rocky Mountain Region. It may inspire people in those states who may want to do some digging on their own to see if the policies exist, or even go as far as to propose them if they don't.

You could say that this fascination with visually-represented data goes back to my GIS roots, but I think it's also a really effective way for people who have no real interest in how the technology works to just click on their state and get the info they need. In that respect, I think it straddles both sides of food + tech. We're currently working on drilling down to the ZIP code level, and up to the global scale, but that's still some time off.

Q. What does "open source data sharing" mean to you? Why is it important?

A. Open source data sharing means that the data is available for everyone to download, analyze, update, and contribute to. This is extremely important given the high speed of change in technology, and the speed of change in the current world of policy. By keeping the data open source, it can be consistently updated and analyzed to help policy makers make the best decisions possible in real-time.

In addition, by creating a data hub, we hope to help spur creative thinking and foster critical thinking about the policy approaches taken by different state and local governments. Our current maps are not updated in real time and focus as more of a data-hub, but we are looking at ways to push the envelope, and really welcome suggestions for what would make useful tools, maps, and resources.

Q. How are you incentivizing users to contribute data to the maps? What portion of the maps are user-contributed data?

A. We're hoping that users contribute data because it's something they really care about, and we're trying to make it as easy as possible. Users don't have to register or fill out any complicated forms to submit data. It goes directly into our database system (which is linked to the map), where someone moderates it for quality and accuracy before posting.

Currently, most of the food sovereignty map is user-submitted (we started off with only one local ordinance - Sedgwick, Maine - and the map now includes a dozen or so state and local laws). The urban ag zoning map started from a base dataset, but we've had 5-10 new submissions in the week it's been live.

The urban agriculture/food systems/urban planning community is a very dedicated group (just check out the COMFOOD listserv), so I see Grown in the City's role as providing easy, well designed, good looking, open source tools for people to share data with.

Q. What excites you the most about the way that tech are being leveraged to affect the food system?

A. I think what excites me most is how the internet functions. We see all the time the internet can be used as a "flashpoint" for transmitting memes - everything from Charlie Sheen to Rebecca Black can become the talk of the town (or the world) overnight. In a smaller, kinder way, I think we've seen this with some really interesting urban agriculture stories. The story on Maine food sovereignty has been shared over 1,300 times on Facebook since it was published 10 days ago and was even picked up by Mark Bittman of The New York Times. In that respect, I think new technologies are an incredible media tool for telling the stories we all care about so passionately to a wider audience.

In terms of how we are using technology? Tools such as smart phones, which seem to be in the hands of everyone these days, can be used to collect more and better data about our food system in relatively non-intrusive ways. Just think if everyone was entering information about how much and what type of produce they consumed, how much water they used to water their gardens, or what they were growing in their community gardens? Having such data would allow us to get a much clearer picture of the local food systems around us and what our impacts are. But I think it's not too far off, given the new tools we're seeing.

I think the future is one where technology, metrics, and real-time measurement of our impacts are just part of daily life. Whether this is good or bad remains to be seen, but it sure is interesting!'

17 April 2011

Open Sourced Blueprints for Civilisation

Sourced from TED, April 2011

'Marcin Jakubowski is open-sourcing a set of blueprints for 50 farming tools that can be built cheaply from scratch. Call it a "civilization starter kit."

Using wikis and digital fabrication tools, TED Fellow Marcin Jakubowski is open-sourcing the blueprints for 50 farm machines, allowing anyone to build their own tractor or harvester from scratch. And that's only the first step in a project to write an instruction set for an entire self-sustaining village (starting cost: $10,000).'