The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

December 27, 2009 at 1:30 am | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)
    “A good sketch is better than a long speech…” — a quote often attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte
    (^ That’s the opening gambit to the article by John Sviokla.)
    In many ways, this is also about patterns, and pattern recognition (which is what Scruton’s article was about, too). The new changes are perhaps more related to how *dynamic* our reality has become. But “…even in a world of information surplus, we can draw upon deep human habits on how to visualize information to make sense of a dynamic reality.”

    tags: harvard_business, john_sviokla, data_visualization

    Barry Schwartz makes a passionate call for “practical wisdom” as an antidote to a society gone mad with bureaucracy. He argues powerfully that rules often fail us, incentives often backfire, and practical, everyday wisdom will help rebuild our world.
    Inspiring ~22min. TED presentation by Barry Schwartz, about planning and incentives, and individual virtue, and practical wisdom. It’s interesting to watch & ponder this video side-by-side with Roger Scruton’s article on architecture and urban planning (also bookmarked today).

    tags: ted_conference, barry_schwartz, wisdom, virtue, ethics, education

  • Roger Scruton at his curmudgeonly best, but I can’t say but that I don’t agree with quite a few of his insights…\n”Architecture clearly illustrates the social, environmental, economic, and aesthetic costs of ignoring beauty. We are being torn out of ourselves by the loud gestures of people who want to seize our attention but give nothing in return.”\nHe includes an interesting parsing of Jane Jacobs’s ideas in this article. Intriguing thoughts around the role of planning the notion of “side constraints.”

    tags: roger_scruton, architecture, beauty, urbanism, cities, jjacobs, urbanplanning

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Eat the rich: on sustainability

December 18, 2009 at 8:17 am | In green, ideas, innovation | 1 Comment

Another very interesting entry in Seth Godin‘s (free) PDF e-book compilation, What Matters Now, is Unsustainability by Alan M. Webber (co-founding editor of Fast Company).

Now, this one had me thinking about negative externalities, the book Natural Capitalism (and its authors, Paul Hawken and Hunter and Amory Lovins), and a provocative article by Frank Furedi (heh, “one of these things is not like the others…”). Furedi’s article, published in Spiked Online, is called, Anything ‘sustainable’ is not worth having,

Frank Furedi

Frank Furedi

(Disclaimer: I have a guilty conscience right now because so far I’ve quoted from pages written by men. There are women authors in What Matters Now, and I hope to get to some of them, too. I’m not sure why the male-authored articles have grabbed more of my attention.)
Paul Hawken

Paul Hawken

From what I understood of my reading around in Natural Capitalism and other books, we have an economic system that fails to account for negative externalities: that is, there are rewards built into the system to encourage you to generate the most profits, but there aren’t really meaningful fines or penalties or constraints built in if you, for example, wreck the environment for everyone else. There are fines for wrecking it after the fact, but by then the damage has been done. Granted, we don’t live in the dark ages of 19th century industrialization any more, but there’s still plenty of room for things to go wrong – and therefore also for improvement.

Amory Lovins

Amory Lovins

For example: the air is free to breathe for everyone, but if a feed-lot sets up next door and pollutes the air with its stench or poisons the groundwater with excess nitrogen, that negative externality (the pollution from the lot) in the past typically was not charged to the feed-lot operator. Instead, the rest of us are expected to suck it up (literally, in this case), and absorb that negative externality ourselves as the price of having a thriving business (the feed-lot) in our midst. Ditto for excess packaging of consumer goods: the manufacturer reaps a reward (increased sales) if s/he manages particularly eye-catching or obtrusive packaging, but pays no penalty for contributing mountains of garbage to landfills. It’s a negative externality that’s palmed off on the rest of us instead, who struggle in our communities to find ways of dealing with trash.

Hunter Lovins

Hunter Lovins

In many ways, this is arse-backwards. If, in the process of making a living (with profit, which isn’t in any way a bad thing in itself), you mess up The Commons for the rest of us, The Commons has typically and to date “eaten” that cost as the price of progress. But shouldn’t the cost to The Commons be built into your profit model a priori, to force you (the entrepreneur, the business person, the natural capitalist) to factor into your business model the true cost of doing business?

Of course it should.

That would be a reckoning that includes “sustainability” (an admittedly much-overused word these days).

So let’s look at Alan M. Webber’s entry on Unsustainability (p.24):


Everyone is pursuing sustainability. But if change happens when the cost of the status quo is greater than the risk of change, we really need to focus on raising the costs of the unsustainable systems that represent the unsustainable status quo.

Unsustainable failed educational systems, obesity-producing systems, energy systems, transportation systems, health care systems. Each and every one is unsustainable. It’s more “innovative” to talk about bright, shiny, new sustainable systems, but before we can even work on the right side of the change equation, we need to drive up the costs of the unsustainable systems that represent the dead weight of the past.

The road to sustainability goes through a cleareyed look at unsustainability.

Alan M. Webber is co-founding editor of Fast Company magazine and author, most recently of Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Yourself.
Alan Webber

Alan Webber

Among other things, I’m reading this as a call to take negative externalities into account. What’s delusional (and therefore unsustainable) is the pretense that negative externality can just be “eaten” by others. It has to be factored into the business model.

What I like about Alan Webber’s comment is his plea for a “cleareyed look at unsustainability” – yes, please! Because that will help us a lot more than a religiously-tinged view of sustainability.

This brings me back to Furedi, who attacks the religious attitude of the sustainability crowd.

(I’m an atheist, I can’t help liking the “cleareyed” approach a lot better than …the other stuff.)

Furedi argues that in much of the usual discussion around sustainability, all the emphasis is on consumption – and not nearly enough on production.

An emphasis on consumption puts the onus on individuals, and on that whole quasi-religious aspect: if only you could become pure and good enough, you wouldn’t consume so much.

Furedi criticizes the shifted focus on consumption, which de-emphasizes production (and recall how an integrated approach that factors in negative externalities could shape our production practices). We are ignoring a lot of quantifiable factors around production.

We’re focusing instead on indexes, for example the “happiness” index, and we feel guilty about linking happiness to prosperity. Production underwrites prosperity. In Furedi’s analysis, severing the linkage between happiness and prosperity is a logical error, and it inflects our thinking about sustainability.

As he puts it in his conclusion:

We live in a world in which the one idea that everyone can sign up to as a way of dealing with the recession is ‘sustainability’. Now, I’m old-fashioned about this – maybe it’s my classical economist, Marxist background – but basically I would say that sustainability is not a good thing. Anything that is sustainable is not worth having, and that has always been the main principle of human development. That is, it’s precisely because we recognise the transient, fluid character of our existence that we don’t simply want things to be sustainable – we want things to move forward, to progress, to develop. It seems to me that what is really lacking today is some kind of progress-related, progressive ideology, which we might use to deal with today’s many troublesome ideas and issues. (source)

In other words, let’s try also taking a “cleareyed look at unsustainability”…so we can move forward on progress.

Analog: the landscape, not the map?

December 17, 2009 at 12:28 pm | In ideas | 2 Comments

Here’s another page from Seth Godin‘s super-interesting e-book (did I mention it’s a free [PDF] download?), What Matters Now. This one is from George Dyson (of the Dysons that include his father Freeman Dyson and his sister Esther Dyson):


Analog computing, once believed to be as extinct as the differential analyzer, has returned.

Digital computing can answer (almost) any question that can be stated precisely in language that a computer can understand. This leaves a vast range of real-world problems—especially ambiguous ones— in the analog domain. In an age of all things digital, who dares mention analog by name? “Web 2.0” is our code word for the analog increasingly supervening upon the digital—reversing how digital logic was embodied by analog components, the first time around.

Complex networks—of molecules, people, or ideas —constitute their own simplest behavioral descriptions. They are more easily approximated by analogy than defined by algorithmic code. Facebook, for example, although running on digital computers, constitutes an analog computer whose correspondence to the underlying network of human relationships now drives those relationships, the same way Google’s statistical approximation to meaning— allowing answers to find the questions, rather than the other way around—is now more a landscape than a map.

Pulse-frequency coding (where meaning is embodied by the statistical properties of connections between memory locations) and template-based addressing (where data structures are addressed by template rather than by precise numerical and temporal coordinates) are the means by which the analog will proliferate upon the digital.

Analog is back, and here to stay.

George Dyson is the author of Baidarka, Project Orion and Darwin Among the Machines, as well as a recent short story,
Engineers’ Dreams.”

George Dyson (from Wikipedia)

George Dyson (from Wikipedia)

What I love here: the reminder that analog and analogy share a root meaning; the idea of landscape as analogy (as opposed to a map – I was reminded of what I used to do as an art historian: trying to “map” meanings – historical, ideological – to painted landscapes…); of answers finding questions (hm, try to wrap your head around that one…!); of analogy profilerating on the digital – I love the image that evokes, analogically-speaking!

“What matters now”: importance of conservation

December 16, 2009 at 11:48 pm | In politics, victoria | 1 Comment

I’m reading What Matters Now, the free e-book (PDF here) produced by Seth Godin (with contributions by ~60 [I think] different writers: short, single-page length nuggets of wisdom or inspiration or questions to ponder).

On page 37 I came across the entry by Piers Fawkes, whose PSFK site, with its global orientation, I used to read religiously before I got trapped in a particularly sordid local situation in Victoria, BC. (The situation is, of course, our current city council’s plan to replace the historic Johnson Street Bridge, although the word “plan” is an abuse of language in this case.)

Anyway… Here’s Fawkes’s entry. I bolded (and underlined) a key bit, one that I wish our city council would open its eyes to.


You are immortal. The result of everything you do today will last forever.

Everything you buy, own, consume is likely to last forever somewhere in a landfill. Even the majority of the the recyclable materials you use will not be processed and these ‘green’ items will be found piled up in deep far-off valleys whether you like it or not.

When our great great grandchildren finally work out how to solve the selfish errors of our time, we will be considered primitive: our balance with our habitat ignored in pursuit of progress.

But as humans we strive for progress. We will not live alone self sufficiently on our rural hectare and therefore we must bring simple common sense to everything we buy, own & consume. If they will last forever, then we must make these items as useful as they can be for as long as possible.

Products needs to be kept, repaired, loaned and shared. Packaging needs to be reused and returned. That is progress.

Yes, the future will have smaller markets but tomorrow’s business leaders will be the first ones to build markets today that have a focus on forever.

Piers Fawkes inspires his readers, event attendees and corporate clients to make things better. His latest click to print book is Good Ideas in 2010.

In other words, it is better to repair than to replace.

Johnson Street Bridge by Brandon Godfrey on
Photo by Brandon Godfrey – on here

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

December 13, 2009 at 10:30 pm | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)
  • Small group pool of “Your worst railway stations” for BBC news group, posted by public Flickr members.

    tags: flickr, railway_stations, spaces, public_infrastructure, design, bbc

  • “This workshop brings together people from a diverse range of disciplines to discuss social and mobile technologies and how they can be studied, designed and developed further to support local participation and civic engagement in urban environments.”

    Link to conference program (w/ presenter abstracts):…

    tags: mobile_technology, mobile_city, urban_design, adam_greenfield

  • “The main question architects should ask themselves is how new media technologies alter the social processes behind spatial interventions?”

    Suppose an architect or planner is involved in designing some public space, say a park. Who are the stakeholders involved and what are their interests? What activities might take place there? What qualities should that public place have? The client, a local municipality, will want to combine a pleasant public service with some level of institutional control to prevent loitering, pollution, etc. The public may want a place were they can relax, but some also want a place to work and meet. The planner must find a position vis-a-vis the public’s wish for leisure and connectivity (e.g. by installing benches, free wireless internet, and electricity), institutional control (e.g. by somehow limiting access to wireless infrastructure, installing CCTV cameras, or uncomfortable benches that cannot be used long), and stimulating the public character of the park (e.g. by discouraging individual media consumption altogether).

    Moreover, the stakeholders do not solely consist of the municipality and a heterogeneous public, but also of the wireless internet provider, the technical repair staff, the security agency monitoring the park behind screens, and even theaters, cafés and shops in the vicinity that might be affected by the media-consumption and online buying habits of the now-connected public. Similarly, free wireless internet may shift the intended activities of the park from being a local public meeting place for co-existence towards a place for individualized networking on a potentially global scale. This in turn influences the quality of a park as a specific public setting. If people use Twitter and Facebook to post that they are in the park, will they be more likely to meet acquaintances or strangers there? Moreover, the representation and quality of the park may be largely outside of the planner’s hands when people upload and share their experiences of that place online.

    tags: mobile_city, planning, urban_design, architecture, michiel_de_lange, media

  • “The problem with a public-facing Twitter stream in events like this is that it FORCES the audience to pay attention the backchannel. So even audience members who want to focus on the content get distracted. Most folks can’t multitask that well. And even if I had been slower and less dense, my talks are notoriously too content-filled to make multi-tasking possible for the multi-tasking challenged. This is precisely why I use very simplistic slides that evokes images for the visual types in the room without adding another layer of content. But the Twitter stream fundamentally adds another layer of content that the audience can’t ignore, that I can’t control. And that I cannot even see. “

    tags: web2.0, danah_boyd, twitter, backchannel, audience, participation, multitasking

  • “About Civic Ventures
    Civic Ventures is leading the call to engage millions of baby boomers as a vital workforce for change. Through an inventive program portfolio, original research, strategic alliances, and the power of people´s own life stories, Civic Ventures demonstrates the value of experience in solving serious social problems – from education to the environment and health care to homelessness. Founded in 1998 by social entrepreneur and author Marc Freedman, Civic Ventures works to define the second half of adult life as a time of individual and social renewal. “

    “Helping society achieve the greatest return on experience.”

    tags: civic_ventures, boomerism, ageing, social_capital, society, investment

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

The ugly reader

December 13, 2009 at 9:26 pm | In authenticity, writing | Comments Off on The ugly reader

If I type “troll” into my browser, I’m immediately taken to Wikipedia’s page on Troll (Internet). That’s appropriate, since it was internet trolls – those icky anonymous assassins – I was thinking of when I decided to write about “my” ugly reader.

Usually, when I post, I imagine a beautiful reader – someone like myself: open-minded, strong, analytical, capable of synthetic reasoning, etc. etc. However, from time to time, someone really ugly comes along, however: weak, anonymous, and …well, crazed.

Luckily, WordPress has spam filters and moderation queues, so I can shield you, Dear (Beautiful) Reader, from that Ugly Reader’s ugliness.

So consider this your lucky, beautiful day. No ugly trolls for you! 🙂

Fremont Troll

Fremont Troll

All in my head?

December 7, 2009 at 10:29 am | In creativity, ideas, johnson street bridge, just_so, local_not_global, politics, victoria | 1 Comment

I’ve written quite a few blog posts in the last months. Unfortunately, the ones destined for this blog all stayed in my head.

As I’ve mentioned on my Twitter stream, I’m deeply immersed these days in a local issue.

How the local has chipped away at my confidence in assessing any kind of global perspective (including my own “place”) could itself be the topic of a blog post, however. From where I’m standing right now, local politics are much “heavier” than national or global politics. You come to know in your bones how local politics will dis-lodge you. Mess with global issues and you can always return to your nest at the end of the day. But local politics infiltrates your “place,” shows you that your hold is both tentative and atavistic, a throwback that can’t last because immortality (including the pretended one of blowhard politicians) is illusion…

I think most people ignore local politics for that very reason, even though affecting local politics is in some ways easier and more rewarding than tilting at national or global windmills.

Some national and global issues might be starting to give us a foretaste of how they’re going to affect us locally.

In the US, health care issues are a beginning of a confluence between local and national. Climate change will probably bring global to local.

We live in interesting times.

Theme: Pool by Borja Fernandez.
Entries and comments feeds.