måndag 17 februari 2020

FLIGHT spring 2020 bachelor's theses

Three groups of students will evaluate the FlightViz visualization tool during the spring term

My previous blog post presented three bachelor's theses that I will be the advisor of during the spring term and this blog posts presents the other five theses (10 students working in pairs) that I will be the advisor of. It is a bit misleading to say that I will (only) be the advisor of these eight bachelor's theses as my role is more complex. All of these eight theses are "generated" by two research projects, "Homo Colossus" and "FLIGHT". I am the principal investigator and project leader of both of these research projects. All of these bachelor's theses are the result of theses proposals that we wrote up in the research projects. That means my relationship to these students is not just as their "advisor" but also as a "client" who wants something done. This can be compared to a situation where a company wants something done (a "client") and where the students also have an academic "advisor" who helps them deliver not just what the company wants but who also (and actually primarily) helps them write a thesis and thus pass the course (in this case "DM128X Degree Project in Media Technology").

So I have two hats when I meet the students. On the one hand I am a client who wants (practical) things done (stuff should be delivered!). On the other hand I am also their academic advisor who makes (scientific) demands and supports them so that they get their thesis together and pass this 15-credit course.

These students do get more attention and support than "ordinary" students would get. The course has a budget and there are guidelines for how much time an advisor should spend throughout the spring term but since they are working with/for a research project, I am prepared to spend some more time with these students. Here are the five bachelor's thesis:

Evaluating FlightViz at KTH (Anna Gustavsson and Kristina Andersson)
I wrote about the FlightViz vizualisation tool in a blog post a month ago. A group of students developed FlightViz for the FLIGHT project during the latter part of the autumn term. The tool was developed to fit the needs of the four researchers in the FLIGHT project, but (how) does it fit the needs of other users at KTH who also would like to know about KTH flight patterns? Anna and Kristina will evaluate FlightViz with other user groups and will thus also find out what questions others would like to have answered that FlightViz currently does not satisfy. We expect this thesis to result in a list of needs/demands that we can take into consideration when we develop an updated version of FlightViz.

Evaluating FlightViz at other universities (Eliott Remmer and Nils Merkel)
Eliott and Nils will evaluate FlightViz at a number of other universities in and near Stockholm. Kristina von Oelreich who is Chief Sustainability Officer at KTH will help Eliott and Nils with contacts (other persons who have her role at other universities).

Evaluating FlightViz at other organisations (Albin Matson Gyllang and Billy Jansheden)
Albin and Billy will also evaluate FlightViz but in other, non-unviersity organizations. It seems like one of the organisations that will be part of their thesis is the Red Cross. Markus Robèrt who is part of the FLIGHT project will help Albin and Billy with contacts to relevant persons in these companies (organisations).

Engaging through design - visualizing the climate impact of aviation in KTH departments (Maria Jacobson and Nike Backman Eriksson)
We will visit one department/division at each of the five Schools at KTH during the spring. We will visit them again a year later and possibly make shorter visits a few times in-between. It would however be good if these departments knew how they are doing in terms of CO2 emissions from their flights throughout the remainder of the year. Maria and Nike will therefore design a leave-behind "installation" that will be updated with new data on a monthly basis and that will display some relevant information or measure that will help departments understand if they are on track to meet their goals (or not). Maria and Nike have basically taken on a task that we specified in our research project application, e.g. to "examine alternative ways to represent historic, present and future travel data and CO2 emissions to communicate and further increase awareness of the connection between data, habits and behaviors in relation to KTH goals".

Travelspeed (Martin Neihoff and Julia Huang)
Martin and Julia will do the same thing that Maria and Nike will do, but have already decided what specific data they will work with - data on the length of air trips (distance) and time away from Stockholm. Distance divided by time = speed. How can speed be used to benchmark or increase awareness of travel patterns at different departments? This is a far-out idea that came to us (the researchers in the FLIGHT project) when we met a group of students and we think this ides is very intriguing (there are parallells to the "time geography" that Swedish geographer Torsten Hägerstrand developed in the 1960's). We don't yet know what this idea will yield, but we think it is really intriguing and are happy that we have found students who will help us explore this concept!

fredag 14 februari 2020

Homo Colossus spring 2020 bachelor's theses

Augmented Reality book cover

The spring term is bachelor's and master's theses season. This year I am the advisor of eight bachelor's theses (our students write these in pairs). These 16 students are divided into two groups and this blog post treats the first group, e.g. the six students who write three bachelor's theses as part of the larger Homo Colossus project. (The next blog post will treat the other five bachelor's theses.) These eight theses are just about what I can manage so I'm not the advisor of any master's theses this year.

As part of, or rather latching on to the larger Homo Colossus project, three pairs of students are writing their bachelor's thesis on Homo Colossus-related topics and these three theses are geared towards the World Expo. That means that if these three theses are successful, we will continue to work with these projects also after the bachelor's thesis course ends. The aim would then be to develop Augmented Reality installations that can be exhibited at the World Expo at the end of the year.

Below are early descriptions of these three projects/bachelor's theses. They are based on the students' thesis specifications and some additional knowledge that I have of these projects.

An Augmented Reality rat ate all the cheese!

Imagine an animal that represented the energy footprint of the laptop in the background.

"Energy awareness through alternative visual representations" (Kevin Arnmark and Mattias Lundin)
The title is a bit dry, I personally think of this project as an Augmented Reality animal farm in your home (see images above). The basic idea is that all appliances, all devices and all gadgets in our homes (fridge, oven, hair dryer, lamps, computers, TVs etc.) use energy, and, the energy that each devices uses per day could be translated into an animal that needs (to eat) the same amount of energy to get by from one day to the next. A washing machine (with the energy label A+++) use less than 1 kWh per washing. The Swedish Energy Agency assumes that the average washing machine is used 170 times per year so the daily energy consumption of an average Swedish washing machine is thus ≈ 0.5 kWh. This is how much energy an animal (say a dog) that weighs around 12 kilos needs, so your washing machine could be represented by this dog. What other animals inhabit your apartment? Kevin and Mattias will explore this and populate your home with virtual augmented reality animals.

Augmented Reality children's book

Augmented Reality flashcards

"Living postcard: Augmented Reality on 2D printed surfaces" (Isak Pettersson and Gabriel Rosenberg)
Isak and Gabriel want to explore Augmented Reality on two-dimensional surfaces. There are examples of AR figures popping up when you turn the pages of a book (for example children's books, image above) and the same technology could obviously be used to endow a postcard (image above) or any other flat printed surface with "hidden information" (a "marker") that comes alive when you look at it through the screen of your AR-enhanced smartphone. The marker could of course also be placed on the ground. One intriguing idea that this thesis might explore are the possibilities that are opened up if you place two postcards near (or beside or partly covering) each other. This idea obviously has 1000 different application areas that could be developed and the effects of the interaction between postcards could for example vary depending on which particular postcards (out of a larger pool) that you place near/beside other or how you orient them in relation to each other!

McDonalds walk-up self-order kiosks

WWF's carbon calculator (which estimates your carbon footprint based on four simple questions)

"Homo Colossus Do-It-Yourself" (Linus Tegelmo and Hugo Helander)
Linus and Hugo want to create a system, a walk-up kiosk (image above), that efficiently collects data and calculates your energy footprint. This is basically similar to the numerous carbon calculators that exist (image above), but this system would try to figure out the individual's energy (rather than carbon) footprint. The idea is to collect data about your energy-consuming habits and summarise that into a number that represents your daily energy consumption. This number (say for example 200 kWh/day) could then be translated into the size you would be were you a huge animal that had to extract the same amount of energy from the food you eat each day (see the first proposal above). If you were to eat 200 kWh per day, you would then be 12-13 meters tall and weigh around 30 000 kilos.

tisdag 11 februari 2020

PAIN: Emotional aspects of goal conflicts in climate change (application)

Our co-applicants Maria Wolrath Söderberg and Nina Wormbs' just-out report!

I was part of yet another research grant application that was handed in last week, "PAIN: Emotional aspects of goal conflicts in climate change". This is a Big application where the work effort was led by professor Nina Wormbs at the Department of History of Science, Technology and Environment at KTH. The one other person who put the most work into this application was Maria Wolrath-Söderberg from Södertörn University. Everyone from the FLIGHT project is also part of the application (me, Markus Robèrt, Elina Eriksson and Jarmo Laaksolahti) and the other two senior researchers who are part of the application are Marco Armiero and Cecilia Åsberg.

The call to which we submitted our application is called "Realising the global sustainable development goals" and the application had to be between 10 and 20 MSEK large (we are much closer to 20 than to 10 MSEK). The project, should it be approved, will run between January 2021 -  December 2024. I attended an information meeting about the call four months ago (October) because our research group had decided that this call was interesting for us to apply to. At that information meeting Formas explicitly said that they are looking for post-normal, transformative and truly transdisciplinary research applications that work towards transformative rather than incremental change, and that they will fund a limited number of flagship projects. Should our application be granted, part of it will be used to hire a PhD student (at Nina's department) and a post-doc (at our department) and this is something we will know four months from now, in mid-June.

The application itself came out of open-ended discussion about the intersection between work that we do in the FLIGHT project ("Decreased CO2-emissions in flight-intensive organisations: from data to practice") and work that Nina and Maria have done on similar issues but from another angle. Where we look at professional travel in academia (travel that is done as part of your job as a researcher), Nina and Maria have looked at a type of "forerunners" - people who have decided to quit flying in their private lives and the reasoning behind that decision. Nina and Maria recently (end of last year) published a report about this called "Grounded: Beyond Flygskam".

Ours and their interests thus heavily overlap and as it so happens, both of us will talk at the upcoming (Feb 20) KTH Sustainability pub, "The Frequent Flyer Academy: how can we limit plane travel?". From the perspective of FLIGHT, this application constitutes a follow-up to our recently-started 2019 - 2022 research project - something we talked about already at the time when we handed in our application a year ago.

The application has six work packages and the (people who are part of the) FLIGHT project for the most part took responsibility for writing (and later running) two of the work packages; "Design for emotional engagement" and "Bargaining with emotions in real-life mitigation projects". These work packages connect to work we already do and would thus constitute a continuation of our current work. We are really excited about this application and about the possibility of working closer together with Nina, Maria and the other researchers who would be part of the project (Cecilia, Marco and others)!


We focus on the goal conflicts of climate change action (SDG 13) and in particular the true goal-conflict of knowledge production and mobility on the one hand and lowering emissions on the other. You cannot attain both goals at the same time and options at your disposal are to choose, to compromise or to abstain. This gives rise to emotions, often not allowed for in transition processes, but part and parcel of what it means to be human. Our inability to handle emotions contributes to the inertia in climate-change mitigation and we claim that a successful approach should also incorporate the emotional aspects of human behavior.

A focus on the knowledge economy is worth while since scholars have a high capacity to comprehend climate change, a responsibility to take the lead in a transition, and non- action undermines their own message; they have great resources, both material and immaterial; and they are also part of the problem. We will study the arguments scholars have around climate change and their own behaviour, what is considered OK for a scholar, and how to understand activism. We will design visualizations for engagement using data from climate change scholars' mobility and work with research groups that aim to lower their emissions. And we will commission a playwrite to write a manuscript for the stage.

The project merges environmental humanities and strategic sustainability studies with media technology and interaction design.

I also think the first paragraph of the application's "Introduction" is a powerful summary of what this project is about:

This project deals with the pain in unsolvable goal-conflicts and how emotion can be made into an asset rather than a hindrance in the transition towards a sustainable society. We argue that our inability to handle emotions contributes to the inertia in climate-change mitigation and we claim that a successful approach should also incorporate the emotional aspects of human behavior. This is easier said than done. “Most people have [...] oriented their solutions toward the easy, and often to the easiest of the easy, and yet it is clear, that we must trust in that which is difficult” as Rainer Maria Rilke reminds us (quoted in Moser 2019).

200213 Addendum. We just got this from Formas:

Dear Applicant,

Thank you for applying to Formas’ call for proposals “Realising the Sustainable Development Goals”. We are pleased with the enormous interest the call has generated – 174 applications were registered in Prisma before the call closed on 6 February.

Sweden’s research community has truly mobilised around Agenda 2030, which was exactly what we were hoping for. With this great response, we see the potential for Swedish research to help achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs). We are therefore pleased to announce that on 5 February, Formas’ Scientific Council decided that Formas will contribute an additional 100 million kronor to the call for a total allocation of 200 million kronor. Given the large number of applications, the grant award rate is still likely to be low.

To ensure a high-quality review process, we will postpone the decision date from June to September.

Here is an article about how we managed the large number of applications.


lördag 8 februari 2020

Symbiosis (application)


I'm part of a Färgfabriken application for funds

Besides the Communication application I submitted to Formas earlier this week, I'm also part of another application, "Symbiosis", that was submitted (same call) by Anders Bergmark from the art exhibition space Färgfabriken.

If this application is approved, I will be involved in a variety of activities around the planned exhibition "Symbiosis" during the coming three years (e.g. "Symbiosis summits" and "Symbiosis talks" etc.). The Symbiosis exhibition is planned to have four themes with different evocative titles: "Hinterlands", "Planetary Enterprise", "Re/Designing Ecology" and "Becoming Human". Homo Colossus has been invited to be part of the Symbiosis exhibition and that's also the main reason why I am part of this application.

I'm however just one of many participating researchers in the application and this application is only one of several things that is emanating from me pitching our "Homo Colossus" project at Färgfabriken at the end of October last year. The other participants/researchers who are part of the application are:

  • Anna Björklund, KTH, Associate professor Environmental Strategic Analysis
  • Nina Bozic, RISE, senior researcher innovation management & the future of work
  • Andreas Gedin, Associate Professor/Docent, Valand,Göteborgs universitet.
  • Janna Holmstedt, KTH, PostHumanities Hub
  • Mattias Höjer, KTH, Professor, Environmental strategies and Futures studies
  • Katarina Larsen, KTH, forskare och lärare. Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment David Nilsson, Director KTH Water Centre
  • Daniel Pargman, KTH, Associate Professor, Media Technology and Interaction Design
  • Karl-Henrik Robèrt, BTH, Professor strategisk hållbar utveckling
  • Giles Thomson, BTH, Department of Strategic Sustainable Development
  • Elsa Vaara, RISE, UX- & designforskare PhD
  • Josefin Wangel, SLU Director CEMUS - Center for Environment and Development Studies
  • Cecilia Åsberg, KTH Guest Professor of Science and Technology Studies with focus on Gender and Environment

Note: it was Mattias Höjer (above) who connected me and Färgfabriken in the beginning of October (only four months ago!),

Here's the summary of the project:

The term "symbiosis" summarizes how powerful trends and changes such as urbanization, climate change, digitization, migration, food supply, populism and globalization are intertwined and create new conditions for the future of our planet. We are all affected by this, from individuals, companies to large organizations and nations. The challenges are often discussed individually in an alarmistic fashion, not least in mass media and on social media. This creates fragmentation and leads to concerns and uncertainty about our common future.

At the same time, world-leading research in Sweden is initiated and many new constructive ideas on how the challenges can be adressed are taking shape. But the research is often specialized and doesn’t reach out to other disciplines, to decision makers or the general public. We believe that a symbiotic perspective is a way to increase cross-border cooperation for a sustainable future. In order to create opportunities for ”symbiotic thinking” and new types of knowledge to emerge we need new forums for meetings and knowledge exchange across fields and outside the academic system's discipline structure.

The aim of the project is to create new opportunities for our transition to sustainability through a close collaboration between research, art and culture and a symbiotic approach. It is achieved through a series of communication activities that create links between areas of knowledge (Symbiosis summits) and other target groups (Symbiosis Talks). The insights that arise will also be condensed into core messages and thought-provoking illustrations for further dissemination of methods and "best practices", be condensed into a "manifesto" and finally a "toolbox" for symbiotic thinking and method work. The concept is based on Färgfabriken's know-how and 25-year experience of conceptualizing complex content in an engaging and exciting way based on broad sector-wide collaborations. Processes and results are communicated on an ongoing basis to a general public in Färgfabriken’s channels, as well as via the participating researchers' communication channels.

This means that Sweden's world-leading research reaches far outside the academic community. A powerful approach to create conditions for new insights and opportunities, to communicate the need for interdisciplinary knowledge and to popularize and use research results, contributing to reducing anxiety and promote faith in our future.

torsdag 6 februari 2020

Travelling Colossus: From Expo to Eksbo (application)


From Dubai to Eksbo (15 kilometers east of Borås in western Sweden)

About nine months ago (April 2020), we applied for money for a project from Formas' "Communication call" and four months ago we found out that application had been approved. In a blog post that was published just 10 days ago, I wrote about how the spin-off Homo Colossus@Expo 2020 project has been scaled-up and now represents a significant work effort.

I called up Formas before Christmas to ask if it was possible to "repurpose" some of the money we got for our project towards the new Expo project. The answer was that it wasn't possible (which does make sense), but we also found out there was a new Communication call out and that we could submit a new application there.

So we did. We just handed in a new project proposal and will know in mid-June if it will be approved. In our application, the first year of the project is geared towards the World Expo and the second and third year will re-use and re-package the installations we will create for the Expo and show it to new audiences (in Sweden). Here's the project summary:

Travelling Colossus: From Expo to Eksbo

This project builds on our just-started 2020-2022 Formas-funded Stockholm-based communications project “From Homo Sapiens to Homo Colossus” (dnr 2019-01717). The concept of Homo Colossus builds on a thought experiment: what if we were giant creatures that ate all the energy we use in our everyday lives? The average Swede currently “consumes” upwards to 100 times more energy than the energy content of the food we eat. Preliminary calculations indicate that a giant human that ate that much energy would weigh around 30 000 kilos and we will illustrate the size of our energy footprint through Augmented Reality (AR).

Homo Colossus has made rapid progress. In November 2019, it was invited to represent KTH at the upcoming World Expo in Dubai for two weeks (Nov 2020, Feb 2021). In December, Homo Colossus was also invited to be part of the permanent exhibition at the Swedish pavilion for the duration of the World Expo (October 2020 - April 2021). Embracing the blatant contradictions of representing sustainability at the World Expo, Homo Colossus will nonetheless travel to Dubai to tell people why it’s grossly unsustainable to travel to the World Expo in Dubai.

A large part of the expected 25 million visitors to the World Expo will belong to a global elite of “decision-makers”. At KTH, we are currently developing a number of installations for the World Expo, but why should these exhibits be available only to a global elite that can afford to go to the World Expo? This communication proposal aims to reshape the most relevant Homo Colossus installations from the Dubai World Expo (year 1) and create a travelling exhibition (year 2) that will visit different cities in Sweden (year 3).

For the travelling exhibition, KTH cooperates with Konstfrämjandet, an organisation that has over 70 years of experience with organising travelling exhibitions together with its many districts and member organizations (for example educational associations, trade unions and social movements). We will recruit among Konstfrämjandet’s districts and members and develop a study plan and educational materials pertaining to Homo Colossus and related topics (sustainability, energy use, consumption, transport, social equity, the SDGs etc.). This material will be used in several (parallel) study circles in different parts of the country (autumn 2022) and will also serve to prepare local organisations to receive and display the travelling exhibition, “Travelling Colossus” (winter 2022).

I think we have handed in a good application and that it in several respects is stronger than our previous (approved) application. Despite the fact that we have yet to produce something concrete, we have already "proved" the soundness of the Homo Colossus concept by successfully pitching it left and right, including getting invited to be part of the permanent exhibition at the Swedish pavilion at the upcoming World Expo. The new application is more ambitious than ever:

Covering the research/education angle we have me, Mario Romero and a new Ph.D. student who will start to work at KTH later this spring. Covering the art angle we again have Åsa Andersson Broms (Royal Institute of Art) and Per Hasselberg (Konstfrämjandet/The People's Movements for Art Promotion). Covering the communication angel we again have Belinda Retourné (Changeancy) but this time also strengthened by Marianne Loor (KTH). Both me and Marianne will work 10% in the project without charging the project budget as our work would be paid by KTH. While Per would get paid by the project, the application fits what he already does at Konstfrämjandet and he would "double up" and perform additional work in the project that would be paid by Konstfrämjandet.

All in all, there are many moving parts that fit together nicely in the application. The point is that things should go together in a way that sounds "natural" in an application - but there is a lot of hard intellectual labor to get the ideas to align and fit together and then to be able to express that clearly and succinctly in text. This has kept me quite busy lately - but I believe we have succeeded with writing a strong application. Here is our communication plan:

This application brings together unique competence in the form of research (Pargman, Romero, PhD student), artistic (Andersson Broms, Hasselberg) and communication expertise (Retourné, Loor) in a project that combines sustainability research, scientific visualization and artistic/aesthetic expression. The project group has an even gender balance.

The communication efforts are divided between an operational part (Retourné) and a strategic part (Loor). Retourné will mainly focus on information dissemination and content production e.g. creation and management of a project web page, social media accounts and general PR, as well as contacts with journalists and with the sustainability and art communities. Loor will mainly focus on KTH communication channels and extended research communication related to open science and public engagement as well as contacts with educational stakeholders, e.g. academic channels and the adult educational associations (studieförbund). The project can be divided into three phases:

Year 1: Technical development & Deployment at the World Expo.
  • The first phase of the project (led by Pargman and Romero with input from Hasselberg and Andersson Broms) will develop and deploy several Homo Colossus-related installations at the World Expo (Oct 2020 - April 2021) and collect materials (PhD student) for evaluation. Note: there is already (Feb 2020) ongoing work at KTH to develop these installations. We are currently working closely together with our partners Tekniska Museet and the art exhibition space Färgfabriken and will be able to exhibit (demo and test) our installations there late summer/early autumn 2020 (≈ September 2020).

Year 2: Develop study materials & Develop a travelling exhibition.
  • The project (led by Pargman) develops a study plan and educational materials pertaining to Homo Colossus (sustainability, energy use, consumption, transport, social equity, the SDGs etc.). Pargman has extensive experience and has taught these topics at KTH for the better part of a decade.
  • The project (led by Andersson Broms and Hasselberg) develops a travelling exhibition, “Travelling Colossus”. Applicant Andersson Broms has worked in this field since 1996 with The Swedish Travel Exhibition, Living History Forum, Nordic Museum etc.
  • For organising the travelling exhibition, Konstfrämjandet (and applicant Hasselberg) will take the lead as it is an organisation that has over 70 years of experience with organising travelling exhibitions together with its many districts and member organizations.
  • The project (Hasselberg) recruits national and local organisations among Konstfrämjandet’s districts and members (http://konstframjandet.se/om/medlemmar/) to form local study circles, with a particular emphasis on recruiting local artists, local K-12 teachers and representatives from NGOs.

Year 3: Study circles & Travelling exhibition.
  • Local organisations (recruited year 2) form several parallel study circles in different parts of the country (autumn 2022). The study circles will also serve to prepare local organisations to receive and display the travelling exhibition (winter 2022). K-12 teachers who participate in the study circles will bring in students to the exhibition. Local groups will be encouraged to continue their work/study circles also after the project ends by asking the question “what happens next?”.
  • Data collection and evaluation (PhD student).

The application itself is not very long, nor is the grant very large, but quite a lot of time has gone into thinking about this project.

torsdag 30 januari 2020

Imagining Alternative Futures (application)

Uppsala University - my alma mater and a possible research partner

We just handed in an application for research grants to Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (RJ "supports research in the Humanities and Social Sciences")x The application is called "Imagining Alternative Futures: Intersections of Models and Narratives" and the main applicant/principal investigator (PI) is Michael Boyden who is an associate professor of American literature at the Department of English at Uppsala University. The application is a cooperation between Uppsala University, KTH and the University of Helsinki and the cooperation and the ideas in the application came out of a visit of mine to Uppsala in October last year when I gave a talk at a one-day symposium (on "Ecological Narratives") that the Department of English organised.

Besides Michael, the Uppsala team also consists of Distinguished Professor Emerita Katherine Hayles (University of California/Uppsala). The KTH team consists of me and Eléonore Fauré who is a researcher at the KTH School of Architecture and the Build Environment (ABE). The Helsinki team consists of Associate Professor in English Merja Polvinen and postdoctoral researcher Hanna Roine. Out of these six applicants, three of us will work only 5% each in the project; the real work will be done by (in falling order of time/work effort) Michael Boyden, Eléonore Fauré and Hanna Roine.

What we handed in was only a stage 1 (short) application. If it passes the initial screening, we will get the possibility to expand it into a stage 2 (longer) application (the proposed project will run between 2021 and 2023). What is really exciting about this application is that:

  1. it's about counterfactual scenarios ("what would have happened if...?") and directly connects back to the weeklong February 2019 Lorentz Center workshop that I was part of organising, "Looking backwards to the future: Studying the future with counterfactuals".
  2. the research project partly builds on and plans to work with the "Coalworld" scenario that we developed in our 2017 article "What if there had only been half the oil? Rewriting history to envision the consequences of peak oil" (full reference below) and
  3. it would be totally exciting to work with/explore counterfactuals together with scholars of literature! Michael has worked with the cultural perception of climate change in American fiction, Katherine with the relations between literature and computing, Merja is one of the three principal investigators of the research consortium “Instrumental Narratives" and Hanna's (who works as a postdoc in Merja's research consortium) wrote about worldbuilding in speculative fiction in her PhD thesis. 
My colleage Eléonore is presented as this in the application: 

Eléonore Fauré is currently a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Sustainable Development at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH). She defended her Ph.D in 2018 with a dissertation entitled “Sharing the Doughnut: Exploring Sustainable and Just Futures.” This dissertation project came out of the “Beyond GDP Growth” program at KTH, which focused on modeling sustainable scenarios that are not premised on GDP measures. 

While it would be great to work with Uppsala University (from where I got my undergraduate degree), I have to point out that I am already cooperating Mikael Höök who leads the Global Energy Systems research group at Department of Earth Sciences, Natural Resources and Sustainable Development at Uppsala University. We and others did the original work of developing the "Coalworld" scenario and plan to continue to work since we got funding for a three-year project that started this month, "Beyond the event horizon: tools to explore local energy transformations" (I really should write about that project in another blog post). Anyway, here's the summary of the application we (Michael) just handed in:

Fossil fuels today constitute 85% of all primary energy that humanity uses. Our current use of oil, coal, and gas unfortunately threatens to lead to catastrophic climate change. Imagining alternatives to these non-renewable energy sources is one of the most pressing issues confronting twenty-first century world society. This proposal brings together two frameworks for the imagination of alternative futures that have seldom been combined in this fashion: modeling and narrative. Where modeling is mainly concerned with “what-if” scenarios that allow us to rethink our energy dependencies, a lot of speculative fictions instead imagine alternative future societies in which the current energy supplies have become depleted and replaced by other sources. Both models and narratives are powerful instruments for imagining alternative futures but they both have limitations. Models have the advantage of starting from real-world situations to which they make minor adjustments in order bring into relief other pathways towards sustainable energy use. However, by isolating single causes, they tend to flatten the complexity of social experience. Narratives, by contrast, while they have more dramatic appeal, often lack the empirical grounding of models. By bringing together models and narratives, this project aims to exploit the potentialities of each framework in order to arrive at a composite scenario for a global energy transition that could set us on course towards a more sustainable future.

I also think the Purpose of the application is particularly interesting:

1) To open new possibilities for our imagined futures by exploring how changing one parameter in a model can lead to radically different circumstances; this implies that unknown or misunderstood parameters in the present can jolt the world onto new trajectories, emphasizing how large-scale effects can emerge from small-scale differences.

2) To analyze the narrative techniques of speculative climate change fictions that focus on the depletion of energy sources such as oil. The project studies what gives these narratives their distinctive strengths in stimulating new imaginations.

3) To compare and contrast modeling as a methodology with narratives that create alternative futures. Each has its strengths and limitations; comparing them enables us to create composite scenarios that balance out the extremes and draw on the best both have to offer.

Pargman, D., Eriksson, E., Höök, M., Tanenbaum, J., Pufal, M., & Wangel, J. (2017). What if there had only been half the oil? Rewriting history to envision the consequences of peak oil. Energy research & social science, 31, 170-178.

söndag 26 januari 2020

Homo Colossus@Expo 2020


Travelling to Dubai on a container ship (which has a limited numer of "hotel rooms")

I wrote a blog post three weeks ago about KTH's front page article featuring our new project, "Homo Colossus" ("Man is a dinosaur") and I wrote another blog post in mid-December about the invitation to be part of the Swedish pavilion's permanent exhibition at the upcoming World Expo (starting in October). This blog post is an update about some of the things that have happened since.

To be able to exhibit at the World Expo, the Homo Colossus project must be scaled up. This scale-up represents significant extra work compared to what we promised we would do in our approved three-year science + art + communications project, "From Homo Sapiens to Homo Colossus". We need help to make it happen and the idea is to make the World Expo into a separate-but-overlapping project to which we invite/recruit some of our talented students to help us out. From now on I will refer to two different (but linked) projects about Homo Colossus; the three year (2020-2022) funded research project "From Homo Sapiens to Homo Colossus" and the non-funded applied project "Homo Colossus@Expo 2020". This blog post is about the latter project and how we plan to run that project despite the fact that we currently don't have any funding.

I started to plan for the scale-up in December and did three important things before the Christmas break:
- I pitched the project to my 3rd year students at the very last lecture (wrap-up) on December 13. I also presented these 10+ thesis proposals for their spring 2020 bachelor's thesis course.
- I put together a comprehensive (2000 words) information sheet for students with all the information that I imagined a student would want to know before making a decision about whether to participate in the project or not. This information was primarily directed at our 4th year students (1st year master's students).
- I also talked to the head of KTH's Expo 2020 working group, Christina Murray. Her job title is advisor to the President on issues relating to internationalisation. At her request, I put together a proposal that she presented to the President of KTH to get money for hiring a student project leader for 50% of his/her time for a full year (which we got).

It turned out to be difficult to get 4th year students to apply to be part of the project by just sending out an email with a link to online information, so this past week - after the original deadline had been passed - I personally visited three different courses to pitch the "Homo Colossus@Expo 2020" project directly to the students. Thank you Mario Romero, Anders Lundström and Cristian Bogdan for allowing me to steal time from your courses "Information Visualization", "Physical Interaction Design and Realization" and "Interaction Programming and the Dynamic Web"!

I understand it's a big commitment to sign up for a project that will run for more than a full year, but I am still baffled by how much work I have had to put into recruiting students. I early on tried to figure out what could motivate the students to sign up for this project and money (reason #4) came out last. We will not pay the students anything to be part of the project, but Swedish students on the other hand have "enough" as it is. Also, our students at KTH assume they will earn more than enough when they get a "real job" in the future and many seem to be able to defer earning money into the future. We also imagined credits for courses (#3) could be important for some students - but not for all. More important would be to be part of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and a once-in-a-lifetime experience (#1) that will also look great on your CV (#2). The once-in-a-lifetime experience includes a trip to the World Expo in Dubai either in November 2020 or February 2021 to display our work there as well as participating in various activities at the World Expo. The plan is that our students will go by train through Europe and then travel on a container ship bound for China. These ships stop in Dubai (a 17-day long trip from Italy) where we will spend a week at the World Expo before going back to Sweden by plane (the container ships don't stop in Dubai on their way back from China). I have just now finished recruiting a great group of students who will work in the project during 2020 and into 2021.

This was some about the mechanics of getting the project to take off. There's obviously a lot more to say about this, but these were some highlights of what has been done lately and I am amazed by how only 500 words (above) can cover so many hours of work and so much thinking. I now switch track to describe some of the characteristics of this just-about-to-start project that I have been pondering lately.

Ordinary research projects (like the parallell funded Homo Colossus project "From Homo Sapiens to Homo Colossus") start with an urgent need to flesh out the ideas that were briefly presented in the research grant application (as well to create a more detailed budget). I handed in three research projects proposals last year and all three proposals were accepted. They have given us money and we have for each project promised to do certain things and to deliver certain results. The Homo Colossus@Expo 2020 project is right now being scaled up and there are lots of activities - but we have yet to specify exactly what it is we will be doing in the project and what exactly we will actually display at the World Expo. That is however not a weakness, but rather a strength as we still have the flexibility to adapt in relation to what the students we are recruiting want and what various external supporters/stakeholders want. The project is at this particular point in time neither a blank slate nor set in stone, but somewhere in-between. I think it's fair to say that our project for the moment is a "boundary object" that different people and stakeholders read different things into. It can not stay in this position for long and a month from now we just have to know much more about what we are going to do during the remainder of the term as well as the remainder of the year. Still, this current state of openness simultaneously fills me with trepidation as well as delight because this project is different from other, more "usual" projects. At the moment, the sky is the limit and there is nothing stopping us. We have not made any specific promises to anyone (such as a funding agency) and we can thus ourselves decide exactly what we want to do. While there are many different ideas on the table, we relatively quickly need to figure out exactly what it is we want to do though! In my imagination, our project will soar in the sky. The task now is to make it soar not just in my imagination but also for real - instead of crashing and burning.

The fact that the project does not have a budget is thus both a strength and a weakness and I have thought quite a lot about how the lack of a budget makes this project different from other projects. A budget always comes with strings attached - a budget comes with promises that have been made and limitations on how the money can be used. A budget - money - is of course always welcome, but the main reason why a project needs lots of money is to pay for people's time, but in a project where voluntary participants contribute their time for free, the biggest costs have been rendered moot and money is only needed for the remaining, smaller expenditures. These expenditures can of course be relatively big, but they are still dwarfed by what salaries would cost in an "ordinary" project.

The fact that students will work without salaries creates interesting affordances. If I am the project leader, I can't heavy-handedly direct students to do things I want them to do that they don't want to do themselves because if they don't like to work in the project or they don't like to work with me, they can quit. If unpopular tasks have to be done, I guess I have to convince people that these are things that must be done for the sake of the project. For that to happen, people have to commit, feel ownership and feel that the success of the project is important to them personally!

This demands a different kind of leadership. It's not unlike an amateur theatre production where we are at liberty to experiment and take larger risks than usual compared to a theatre production (with paid actors) that will perform on an established scene. Homo Colossus@Expo 2020 is not an ordinary project, but it also isn't a skunkworks project that flies under the radar and where resources are diluted from whatever it is you are supposed to do (by whoever pays your salary).

Wikipedia refers to a definition of skunkworks project that states that such a project constitutes an "enriched environment that is intended to help a small group of individuals design a new idea by escaping routine organizational procedures". Skunkworks also applies to "high-priority R&D projects at ... large organizations which feature a small elite team removed from the normal working environment and given freedom from management constraints". I can definitely see that parts of this applies to our Expo project - with me selling a vision of what the project could be/become to various parties, for example individual students who sign up for the project, fellow teachers who adapt their masters level courses to the needs of the project, the KTH Expo 2020 working group, the President of KTH, the Swedish Expo 2020 organisation, the Stockholm Science Museum [Tekniska Museet], the art exhibition hall Färgfabriken and others.

One other thing that would obviously be hugely beneficial for the project is if we could get space (a room of our own?) for the project - a place where we could work and hang out. I'm working on it because I think it's important. This is one of the things that is tricky because without a budget, I have to find someone who freely gives us what we want and I first have to figure out who that is, what they want and how our respective resources and needs could be matched. These are the challenges you face when you run a project that does not have a budget and it requires real thought instead of just "throwing money at a problem to make it go away".

Although there is more I could write about I will end this blog post here. My new rule is that blog posts should not be too long - I should preferably not spend more than an hour writing a blog post because the chances then increase that the blog posts in questions will remain un-published (un-written or half-written). I do have plenty of topics for future blog posts about the Homo Colossus@Expo 2020 project though. I'm pretty sure I could crank out a new blog post every week (I won't though). But do ask me about the project if we bump into each other!

onsdag 22 januari 2020

FLIGHT project presentation + test workshop


FlightViz showing 12 months of airplane trips at KTH (8350+ trips). Who flies?

Four months ago I wrote a blog post about our research group's many proposals to the project course "Advanced Project course in Interactive Media Technology". One of the proposals was called "Flightminder - Gapminder for KTH’s flight data". One student project group chose to work with it and the name of their tool has since been changed to FlightViz. Our great students interviewed me and the other researchers in our FLIGHT research project and developed a tool that took as raw data all trips made by airplane during a 12-month period and then made nice graphics out of this data. The five students (Alexander Heikinaho, Jonathan Ramirez Mendoza, Alexander Nordh, Filip Stål and Joel Weidenmark) did a great job and they presented their work to us earlier this week. The only person who had lots of opinions about (many) possible improvements of the tool was my colleague Mario Romero - who is not part of the research project but who helped supervise the students together with me and who was the one person that works with visualisation on a day-to-day basis.

The image above is one of the three main views in the tool and it show who (which school and which department) flies and it is based on test data for the period September 2018 to August 2019. This data will be replace by new day that covers the whole period (36 months) between 2017-2019 that we have just received. The image below instead shows where we are flying. The (code for the) FlightViz tool will be handed over to the FLIGHT research project and it's our new PhD student Aksel Biørn-Hansen who will care for it (I wrote some about him in the previous blog post). As he moves to Stockholm a month from now, we have postponed the actual handover until he has relocated from Gothenburg.

The next step is to evaluate how well the current version of the tool works also for others at KTH who would like to know more about our flying (our travel manager, the KTH Sustainability Office, heads of schools etc.). Fortunately there is great interest among our students to take on this particular topic for their bachelor's theses during the spring term (January-June). That course is only just now starting but I will write a blog post when I know more (within a few weeks). Prospective user evaluations of FlightViz (spring 2020) will then generate input for the next version of FlightViz (autumn 2020).

FlightViz showing 12 months' worth of airplane trips at KTH. Where do we fly?

While there are other projects that look at academic flying, I have yet to see another project that develops tools that put effort into visualising universities' flying patterns. To develop such tools is however not the main purpose of our project, it's just a means to help us understand our KTH's flying. Based on such understanding we can then propose ways to decrease flying that is in line with KTH's climate goals (decrease CO2 emissions from flying with 20% over a five-year period).

This is all the flying at one department during the last 12 months. 
Blue post-it note represents one person at the department. 
Each poker chips represents one plane trip. 
Green = within Scandinavia, red = within Europe, black = intercontinental trip.

To that end, we also conducted a test workshop that very same day. We met up with a department that flies very little and showed them all plane trips at another department during the proceeding 12-months, this time using poker chips (see above). We also compared and discussed their flying (same number of trips but considerably fewer flights). Many interesting things came out of this workshop but one thing that was interesting was that the "low-fly" department's trips were very evenly distributed while the "high-fliers" were very unevenly distributed. Out of the 95 trips the high-fliers did during a 12-month period, half the personnel contributed nothing to that number as they had not flown even once. Out of the people who flew, most had flown only once, twice or three times in a year. A small minority had instead flown more than once per month on average and the trips of a handful of persons (<15% of the personnel) constituted a very high proportion of the departments' total trips. I have a hunch and that is that this patterna will be reproduced in many different departments.

This was a test workshop. We are currently recruiting departments for the "real" workshops and are aiming for five departments (on at each of the five KTH schools). I will of course get back to and blog about this topic again (and again) because FLIGHT is a three-year project and these are early days in the project. The research grant application was submitted almost exactly a year ago and the project started about half a year ago.

lördag 18 januari 2020

Writing camp (workshop)

MID writing camp at Rönneberga conference center

Nowadays our department starts each term with a "writing camp" that is either two or three days long. This past week we went to Rönneberga conference center at Lidingö (near Stockholm) for two days of socialising, eating well and of writing.

This is always an appreciated activity and the last time I wrote about a writing camp was two years ago when our department organised its first writing camp at another conference center (also on Lidingö). Writing camp was a new thing back then but we have since organised writing camps at the start of every term. I have not written about them on the blog, despite the fact that I myself was responsible for organising the previous writing camp half a year ago (at Wiks slott outside Uppsala).

The just-held writing camp was a organised by the TEL (technology-enhanced learning) group at the department, so some of the activities we did together were related to things they work with. Otherwise this writing camp was freer in its organisation that previous camps. Instead of formally pairing up people who belong to different groups and who don't usually work together, people and research groups were allowed to self-organise this time around. That meant that the sustainability research group booked a room that was our "base" and where we organised our work efforts in 40-minute long "shifts" (writing sessions) that were broken up by meals and fika sessions.

One activity at the writing camp was the department's Christmas gift for all its employees, a close encounter with horses at the nearby Elfvik gård. Led by very experienced horse trainers and interacting with very well trained horses, we got to experience a close-up encounter with horses and learned some about how horses think and how they "read" humans (body language).

Another significant event for me and the rest of the sustainability team was the we got to meet our new PhD student, Aksel Biørn-Hansen, for the first time. This is the very concrete outcome of the job ad I posted on the blog three months ago. The ad resulted in almost 50 applications but many were to be regarded as "spam" (clearly not formally qualified for the job and I don't understand why you then even bother to apply). The remainder was winnowed down to five candidates who were interviewed and this later resulted in us offering a position as a PhD student to Aksel. He accepted our offer and he will primarily work in the FLIGHT project that I lead (which runs from mid-2019 to mid-2022). I will be his thesis advisor.

I have by now interacted with Aksel over Skype (the job interview) and later by phone, mail and text messages, but this was the first time we met in person and Aksel also got to meet the rest of the sustainability research group and many of his future colleagues at our department. Aksel will start to work at KTH in February but will not start to work full-time until May. He currently lives with his family in Gothenburg and needs to relocate to Stockholm during the spring.

Aksel originally comes from Norway but has lived in Sweden for years and years; he has a bachelor's degree in cognitive science from Gothenburg University and a master's degree in interaction design from Chalmers University of Technology. Aksel has worked at Svalna as user experience designer (concept development, prototyping, conducting user tests) and wrote his master's thesis about the Svalna carbon calculator: "Evaluation of a carbon calculator: Challenges and opportunities with calculating emissions from consumption behaviour". Aksel is also very special in that he, as an undergraduate student, worked together with researcher Maria Håkansson and then wrote a paper with her, "Building Momentum: Scaling up Change in Community Organizations", that was accepted to the very selective and prestigious 2018 CHI conference. It's a feat for a PhD student to have a paper accepted to CHI and it's even more of a feat for an undergraduate student to be the first author of such a paper.

We all welcome Aksel to our department, to the sustainability research group and to our research project!

söndag 12 januari 2020

Starting up my second career (in stand-up comedy)


I have signed up for an evening course of improv (improvisational theatre) during the spring term together with my son. I have taken improv before but I have also signed up for an intensive one-week stand-up comedy course during the spring.

There are several reasons for taking a stand-up comedy course:
1) It's a fun thing to do with my time - I expect to enjoy the course.
2) I might pick up something that I can use when I lecture.
3) I can provide the entertainment at my department's summer party.
4) After modern capitalistic industrial society inevitably succumbs to the mounting pressure of the unescapable climate catastrophe, people will need to be cheered up now and then; a career in stand-up ("will entertain for food scraps!") will thus become an obvious fall-back option when it no longer is viable to be a researcher and a university teacher. Also, stand-up is more fun and less back-breaking than tilling the soil.

A friend of mine that I met this weekend asked me what role models I have among Swedish stand-up comedians, but I drew a blank. While I have watched quite some improv, I haven't watched a lot of stand-up (do get in touch if you plan to go to Norra Brunn and want company!). We instead had to retreat to sit-coms and we discussed classics like "Seinfeld" and "Friends", but if I were to emulate (e.g. "be inspired by") someone in particular, I think it would come relatively easy to me to go for Sheldon in "Big Bang Theory". His utterances are often patently absurd but he delivers his absurdities with panache while simultaneously being ignorant of their absurdness. I can do that! Sheldon is also very precise in his language, tying together many complicated terms into precise harangues that sound great - but absurd. I can do that too!

I had already figured out that I need to develop a persona for the stage and that's going to be very easy; I will of course perform with a persona that is based on my day job as a researcher and a university teacher. I am also a civil servant who sometimes has to butt head with absurd rules. I am also a voracious reader of academic literature and could partly be an educator on stage, drawing on and jokifying research that I have come across. I am also a sustainability champion and I figure I can draw on that too, but I still think my main platform should be as a researcher and a university teacher.

I have thought about what language I should use. It has to be English if I am to entertain my colleagues/at my department. I can do that! But I'm not sure English will work in the course!? I assume everyone else at the course will go for Swedish so I'm leaning towards starting with Swedish and then later evaluate if or when I should switch. This decision is in fact hard because if I go for Swedish, that assumes a Swedish-speaking audience (such that you would find at a stage in Stockholm). If I on the other hand go for English, that assumes an audience of fellow researchers and the kind of jokes I would develop for such an audience would be different. I did get a super-small notebook earlier this week where I make notes about ideas that could be developed into jokes. At this point, they are not refined and they could become jokes that are told either in Swedish or in English.

Also, what does it mean to be "entertained"? For stand-up, you would think that laughs would be the currency that matters, but how do other outcomes measure up like learning something new (or something bizarre), like being challenged or provoked or being emotionally affected? I'm not sure laughter is what I would want to aim for, I would be very happy if I managed to encourage reflection in members of an audience.

When it comes to the actual content, I would say that whatever I go for, I aim for nothing less than to incorporate lots of ambiguities, paradoxes, dilemmas, oxymorons, contradictions, tensions, breakdowns and wicked problems into my act. Know unknowns and unknown unknowns will also be a great entry point for creating content. Donald Rumsfeld made these terms famous back in 2002 (but they have a  longer history):

"Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don't know we don't know."

As we all know, there are (only) two sorts of people; those who do stand-up and those who don't. Also there are also two other sorts of people; those who divide people into two sorts and those who don't.

When I signed up for the one-week intensive stand-up course, I read that there are three main reasons for people to take that course. These reasons clearly correspond to my own reasons (listed above); they dream about a career as a stand-up comedian (my reasons #3 and #4), they give talks today and want to be more funny (#2) or they just think it would be exciting to try it out (#1). In Sweden, if you want to be funny, you sign up for a course (I did!). My own courses at KTH are on the other hand very boring (to even things out).

I expect that you can book my new show before or otherwise after the summer. To make the magic happen, do get in touch with my agent and then get in line. Also be prepared to dish out significant amounts of moolah!