torsdag 14 maj 2020

Skill rebound (paper)

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This is the second paper of mine that was accepted to LIMITS 2020

My previous blog post was about a paper of ours that has been accepted to the upcoming Sixth Workshop on Computing within Limits. As it is, I submitted a second paper that has also been accepted, "Skill rebound: On an unintended effect of digitalization". The paper was written together with Vlad Coroamă from ETH Zürich (he is the first author).

This paper has an interesting history that started with me listening to Vlad's presentation of his paper "Digital Rebound – Why Digitalization Will Not Redeem Us Our Environmental Sins" at the 2019 ICT4S conference. That paper is written by Vlad Coroamă together with Friedemann Mattern and is available as a pdf here).

Vlad's presentation set of discussions between us at the conference and we almost immediately felt we were on to something and started to discuss the possibility of possibly writing a paper together (based on ideas we had bounced between us in these discussions). Looking at the history of the shared Google documents we have worked with, I can see we started to take notes already then and there (at the conference) and that we had a follow-up meeting at the end of Augusti. Then there was a hiatus for half a year when nothing much happened and we only stated to work on the paper in earnest in February.

This paper could easily have been aimed for and submitted to this year's ICT4S conference, but we were both busy at the start of the year and did not have any chance of meeting the early February deadline, so we instead aimed it for Computing within Limits.

The paper's backstory is that we had the idea that while self-driving cars/autonomous vehicles (AVs) will make each trip more energy-efficient, AVs will surely also lead to more trips being made. If driving becomes safer, easier, more convenient and less expensive, it's hard to imagine that the demand for (autonomous) car trips will not increase. It's in fact quite probable rather than just, say, "possible". The specific insight we had was that driving an ordinary (non-autonomous) car is limited to those who have a drivers' license, but with AVs, "anyone" can drive (or "drive"). A task that previously required training and a specific skills set will now be open to anyone (including children, pets and inanimate objects such as, say, a violin). If we think about this in terms of "rebound effects", this is a type of rebound effect that we haven't seen anyone else talk about before.

There are different kinds of rebound effects (we go through some of them in our paper), for example "time rebound". We suggest that we describe a different type of rebound effect and have chosen to call this "skill rebound". In this case the "skill bar" that is required to perform an action is lowered and this leads to more of that activity. If the activity in questions (e.g. driving a car) is detrimental to the environment then skill rebound will have "unintended" (but not necessarily unpredictable) environmental effects. For more on this, do read the paper or just start by reading the abstract:


ABSTRACT
Efficiency gains in economic processes often do not deliver the projected overall savings. Irrespective of whether the increase in efficiency saves energy, resources, time or transaction costs, there are various mechanisms that spur additional consumption as a consequence. These mechanisms are generically called rebound effects, and they are problematic from a sustainability perspective as they decrease or outweigh the environmental benefits of efficiency gains. Since one of the overarching purposes of digitalization is to increase efficiency, rebound effects are bound to occur frequently in its wake. Rebound effects of digitalization have been ignored until recently, but they have been increasingly studied lately. One particular mechanism of digital rebound, however, has been largely disregarded so far: the digitalization-induced lowered skill requirements needed to perform a specific activity. As with other types of rebound effects, this leads to an increase in the activity in question. In this paper, we propose the term skill rebound to denote this mechanism. We use the example of self-driving cars to show how digitalization can lower the skill bar for operating a vehicle, and how this opens ‘driving’ a car to entirely new socio-demographic categories such as elderly, children or even pets, leading to increased use of the (transportation) service in question and thus to rebound effects. We finally argue that skill rebound must be better understood and taken into account in the design of new technologies.
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söndag 10 maj 2020

From Moore’s Law to the Carbon Law (paper)

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This is the second paper that comes out of the FLIGHT research project

Our second paper from the FLIGHT research project, "From Moore’s Law to the Carbon Law", has been accepted for publication at the upcoming Sixth Workshop on Computing within Limits. All five authors work in the FLIGHT research project (or, formally, "Decreased CO2-emissions in flight-intensive organisations: from data to practice") and they are Daniel Pargman, Aksel Biørn-Hansen, Elina Eriksson, Jarmo Laaksolahti and Markus Robèrt.

I wrote a blog post about the first paper from the project, "On the necessity of flying and of not flying", only one and half month ago and while these two papers have not exactly been written in parallell, they partly overlap (with me as the first author of this paper and my colleague Elina as the first author of the previous paper).

The paper submission deadline was originally at the end of March, but it was postponed two weeks due to Covid-19. We just found out the paper has been accepted and there's now a very short turn-around to improve the paper (taking the feedback of the reviewers into account). The paper itself will be published and made available online sometime later this summer.

The paper was originally meant to be a more narrow description of the problem (researches fly too much) as well as of our project and our proposed solution (e.g. how we work to decrease CO2 emissions from flying at KTH). As we brainstormed and developed the core argument of the paper (before we actually started to write it), we realized we could reach higher and argue for something larger and more fundamental than what we originally imagined, linking the paper to the conference and to what others have previously attempted to do within the area of Computing within Limits.

A key phrase and a starting point for the paper is that a goal of the Limits community is “to impact society through the design and development of computing systems in the abundant present for use in a future of limits and/or scarcity”. The paper's argument in a nutshell is that it has proved difficult to design and develop such systems since we only have very general (and hazy) ideas about what "a future  of limits and/or scarcity" will look like. To develop systems for an unknown future is obviously hard and the alternative is that different researchers have (possibly very) different ideas about what future(s) we are aiming or heading for. It has in other words been hard to find common ground. This paper addresses that conundrum by proposing a roadmap for going from here (the present) to there (the future) in the hope that it might provide a foundation for future Limits papers. The paper was easy to write but we expect it to generate  a lot of discussions (and possibly controversy). Here is the paper abstract:


ABSTRACT
In society in general and within computing in particular, there has, and continues to be, a focus on faster, cheaper, better etc. Such perspectives clash with the fact that impeding climate change and the need for radically decreased CO2 emissions (c.f. the Paris Agreement) will have fundamental and far-reaching ramification for computing and for all other sectors of society during the coming decades.

In the call for the first Computing within Limits workshop, it was stated that “A goal of this community is to impact society through the design and development of computing systems in the abundant present for use in a future of limits and/or scarcity.” There have since been several contributions to Computing within Limits that have accepted the challenge of discussing and imagining what such systems as well as what “a future of limits and/or scarcity” could look like. Despite this, there is currently no consensus about what exactly such a future entails and the community can consequently only offer hazy ideas about exactly what systems we should strive to design and develop. The basic problem can be summed up as follows: we know that fundamental changes are necessary and will come, but we still struggle with envisioning what a post-growth/decarbonising society looks like and what computing systems need to be designed and developed for use in such futures, or, to support that transition.

In this paper we argue that the work of imagining an actionable “future of limits” could benefit from using the “carbon law” as a starting point. The carbon law is based on work in the environmental sciences and we exemplify how it can be used to generate requirements that can guide the development of computing systems for a future of limits. While these lessons are general, we exemplify by describing a research project that aims to support the KTH Royal Institute of Technology’s goal of - in line with the carbon law - radically reducing CO2 emissions from academic flying over the next decade. We give examples of how computing can aid in this task, including by presenting visualisation tools that we have developed to support the KTH carbon abatement goals. We also discuss the role of computer science in general and of Computing within Limits in particular in supporting the transition to a more sustainable (or at least a less unsustainable) future.
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söndag 26 april 2020

Visualizing LCA through Augmented Reality (application)

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Your laptop uses as much energy as a fox. For more information, see this blog post.


Once per year KTH's Sustainability Office award money for small (maximum 100 000 SEK, maximum 1 year) interdisciplinary projects, "Environment and sustainability without boundaries". Last time I handed in an application was two years ago for the project "Homo Colossus In Real Life (HC-IRL)". The application was granted (with a 6-month delay), but we started to work with the project during 2019 and it has since expanded into a research project and an exhibit at the upcoming World Expo.

This week we handed in a new application, "Visualizing LCA through Augmented Reality". The main applicant is Anna Björklund who is an associate professor at the School of Architecture and the Built Environment, Dept of Sustainable Development, Environmental Science and Engineering. Anna is also an expert on Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). The co-applicants are me and Mario Romero (Associate professor in Human-Computer Interaction with focus on Interactive Computer Graphics and Visualization at the Division of Computational Science and Technology. Anna and me developed and wrote up the application but we invited Mario to join as we thought his competence would come in handy in the project.

While I have nominally worked with Anna before (we are co-authors of a paper with five authors), it was most my colleague Elina Eriksson and me who did the majority of the work:
- Eriksson, E., Pargman, D., Björklund, A., Kramers, A., & Edvardsson Björnberg, K. (2016). Sustainable development for ICT engineering students:“What’s in it for me”?. In Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Engineering Education for Sustainable Development (EESD'16).

That paper builds on experiences of teaching sustainability to engineering student in three different programmes and both Anna and me are still responsible for the same two courses as when we wrote that paper.

I have lately talked with Anna about LCA in relationship to the Homo Colossus project and this resulted in a shared application for funds and here is the application:


Visualizing LCA through Augmented Reality 

Project description:
This application will catalyze a multidisciplinary and explorative research collaboration between researchers as well as students from two disparate research fields at KTH - Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and Interactive Media Technology. The three applicants have not previously worked together and we believe the application combines research that has not previously been combined in new and innovative ways.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is used to support decision making in industry, by authorities and to provide consumers with information on product’s environmental performance. While LCA is a powerful tool for developing comprehensive environmental assessment of products and services, results are often complex and difficult to interpret. Improving the communication of LCA results has been the topic of several studies (Cerdas et al. 2017, Sala & Andreasson 2018, Røyne et al. 2019), but these efforts mainly target expert users rather than the general public. There is thus a lack of research on how to convey LCA results in an understandable and meaningful way to non-experts, thereby limiting the potential of LCA to influence and change people’s behavior in a more sustainable direction. 

One example of how LCA is communicated to consumers is to present a numerical value that represents the carbon footprint of a product. The hope is that consumers will make more informed choices, but there is little proof that people in general act on this information. We instead plan to explore more direct and emotional ways of communicating LCA results that relate to the audience on a personal level. We will more specifically explore new ways to communicate LCA results that move beyond traditional 2D representation of LCA results (through bars and charts) and instead use Augmented Reality (AR).

One innovative way to communicate such information, leaving behind the traditional ambition of numerical precision and transparency in LCA, is to instead focus on making results relatable, interesting and emotionally engaging. In this project we plan to use LCA to calculate the energy footprint of gadgets (or devices or services) and then use AR to visualize this footprint using Kleiber’s law (Kleiber 1947) to calculate the mass of an animal that needs the same amount of energy to maintain its bodily functions, e.g.:

  • The average modern energy-efficient washing machine in Sweden uses 1 kWh for a wash cycle and is used on average every second day. 
  • This energy use (0.5 kWh/day) is equivalent to the energy content of the food that an animal that weighs 12 kilos (for example a medium-sized dog) needs to eat each day.
  • Every gadget or service (for example a plane trip) could similarly be “translated” and mapped into an animal of a suitable size. A laptop computer is for example “equivalent” to a fox (see image below)

Future work could involve letting the user “visit” sites in the production chain where energy is consumed or greenhouse gases released, or explore how the size of one’s carbon footprint is affected by choice of diet.

This is a pilot project. The applicants will 1) shape an attractive project proposal for using AR to visualize LCA results and 2) recruit students who will work with this proposal in a project course (DM2799) at the EECS school with 3) support from an LCA research assistant from the ABE school. While the direct output of this project will be a demo that is developed in a project course, the indirect outputs will be a deepened understanding of whether and how AR can be used to explore new formats of presenting LCA data for new audiences (e.g. the general public). If successful, we will use our existing networks to:

  1. Bring the results into our teaching. Applicants Björklund and Pargman are responsible for sustainability courses that are given to engineering students in the ICT programme (AG1815) and the Media Technology programme (DM2573). Applicant Romero teaches courses in Information Visualization (DH2321) and Advanced Graphics and Interaction (DH2413).
  2. Present the results at Tekniska Museet and/or the exhibition space Färgfabriken.
  3. Apply for research grants to fund further research into the area

The project is synchronised with and will benefit from activities that are funded by other sources:

At EECS, co-applicants Pargman and Romero will act as clients and supervisors for a group of second year master’s students working with Augmented Reality (AR) in DM2799 Advanced project course in Interactive Media Technology, a course where students work with research problems posed by researchers at the department of Media Technology and Interaction Design. Pargman and Romero have previously worked together and supervised students in this course as well as elsewhere.




At SEED, a research assistant working together with applicant Björklund on integrating a life cycle perspective in film production will act as the primary contact concerning LCA data and modelling and will support the DM2799 project group throughout the process (October - January).
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söndag 19 april 2020

The academic petroleum precariat (proposed book chapter)

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The academic precariat.

In my last blog post, I wrote about a proposed book chapter we just submitted to the book "Academic flying and the means of communication". As it so happens, I also submitted a second book chapter together with historian Johan Gärdebo (he is the first author).  Johan isn't a close colleague of mine but is affiliated with the KTH Environmental Humanities Lab. Four years ago I attended a workshop that he organized, "Fly or die" and I wrote a long and thought-provoking blog post about the workshop and I can very much recommend that text! It's also partially the case that our FLIGHT research project to some part came out of me and my colleague Elina attending that workshop!

I have bumped into Johan several times this past year and I invited him to be part of the concluding panel discussion in our (this year spectacularly popular) sustainability course just before Christmas where he did a great job! This is the first time we work/write something together and below is the abstract/proposed book chapter we just submitted. Also see the previous blog post to see the call for book chapters.

The academic petroleum precariat: unwanted flying in an age of uncertain employment
Johan Gärdebo & Daniel Pargman

Abstract:
Flying is often the single largest source of carbon emissions for aeromobile individuals. Academics are prime examples of this, not the least since they fly both as (relatively) affluent members of (oftentimes) affluent societies and as part of their jobs (for example to attend conferences and to disseminate research results). Decreasing carbon emissions entails limiting the amount of “unwanted” flying. While anthropogenic global warming in one sense makes all flying unwanted, we are in this context interested in flights conducted by junior researchers - the academic petroleum precariat - who due to precarious employment conditions are pressured to fly hither and yon whether they wish to or not.

In this essay, we argue that the significant driver for the aeromobility of the academic petroleum precariat are present-day academic (incentive) structures. With diminishing opportunities, e.g. fewer possibilities of tenure for a growing number of junior scholars, it becomes increasingly important to gain circulation. Apart from publishing texts, many attempt to increase circulation by physically placing themselves in strategic places of professional networks, where the action is. Flying is a means to quickly gain access to networks and contacts that can be used to increase the chance of texts being read and cited and to get access to valuable information about opportunities and offers.

We analyse petroleum combustion from flying as a response to academic precariousness. While ample flying is no guarantee of an academic career, at present it at least doesn’t hurt one’s prospects for it. The choice of staying on the ground (i.e. of not flying) might on the other hand easily hinder or possibly even ensure that your academic career will be permanently grounded.

Given that the skyrocketing CO2 emissions of Holecene higher education has to be supplanted by (CO2-stingy) Anthropocene academia, we end the text by elaborating on how the academic petroleum precariat is indicative of a set of challenges for the future of academia, for research(ers), and for the means of decreasing CO2 emissions in a knowledge economy.
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fredag 17 april 2020

Who gets to fly? (proposed book chapter)

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The Carbon Law specifies that we repeatedly need to reduce carbon emissions 
by 50% every decade until 2050.

I got an invitation to contribute with a chapter to a book, "Academic flying and the means of communication". The (proposed) book is edited by two researchers at the Centre for Development and the Environment at the University of Oslo.

The call was published earlier but apparently we don't move in the same circles, I got a personal invitation earlier this month but at the tail end of when prospective authors were supposed to submit abstracts.

This book is of course very interesting to the FLIGHT research project (previous blog post here). While a (non-peer reviewed) book chapter is less prestigious than a journal article, this book will bring together other authors whose papers we have read so it's the right company for us to be in. It's also possible to do (write about) things in a book chapter that would be harder in a journal article so we jumped on the chance of contributing to the book with a chapter.

This is however only one of several writing projects we are starting up and it just so happens that this particular project will be my personal baby (e.g. I will step up to be the first author, other research project members will step up and take responsibility for other papers we will write this year). Here is the call for book chapters:


CALL FOR PAPERS – Edited Volume
ACADEMIC FLYING AND THE MEANS OF COMMUNICATION 

In recent decades, the institution of science has become ever more closely intertwined with the practice of air travel, to the point where many academics now think of flying – even of the intercontinental variety – as an essential aspect of their work life. Frequent flying has, in other words, become an ingrained part of what it means to be a successful academic.

Academics’ increasing reliance on air travel is quite striking if one considers that, in a period when academic aeromobility expanded greatly, science established beyond a doubt that human-made global warming is real and serious. It is even more striking if one remembers that, in this very same time span, alternatives to this “academic tourism” – like e-mail, social media, teleconferencing, MOOCs, etc. – became increasingly viable as means of academic communication. 

This planned edited volume shines a light on how and why academic practice today is so intertwined with air travel; how it came to be so; and what can be done to change this situation. Ultimately, it aims to challenge the prevalent conception of a successful academic career, where aeromobility is perceived as a need for professional enhancement. The simple – yet intractable – starting point of the book is that flying is only one means of academic communication among many, and that the state of the planet now obliges us to shift to other means. 

Among the questions we would like to see taken up are: 
• What characterizes academic aeromobility? 
• How did flying come to form such a key part of academic work life – and why is it            perceived as indispensable?
• What are the factors that drive academics to fly – and who benefits from this practice?
• What do scholars and scientists think about flying – and how do they talk about it in the everyday?
• What arguments can be presented for or against academic flying?
• How are conferences/workshops, etc. framed as part of the academic enterprise?

We now invite scholars and scientists from a variety of disciplines, including geography, sociology, history, communication, anthropology, and more, to submit 300-500 word abstracts of proposed book chapters

And here's our just-submitted abstract:

Who gets to fly?
Daniel Pargman, Markus Robèrt, Aksel Biørn-Hansen, Elina Eriksson and Jarmo Laaksolahti

Abstract:
To avoid the consequences of catastrophic climate change we need to uphold the goals of the Paris Agreement (e.g. keeping global average temperature “well below 2°C” compared to pre-industrial levels, UNFCCC 2015). The Carbon Law (Rockström et al. 2017) specifies a CO2 emissions reduction trajectory that is compatible with the Paris Agreement. The Carbon Law specifies that we repeatedly need to reduce carbon emissions by 50% every decade until 2050 and the Exponential Roadmap (Falk et al. 2019) exemplifies in some detail how carbon emissions could be reduced by 50% in every sector (transport, industry, buildings etc.) between 2020 and 2030. By extension, emissions need to be reduced by 50% in every country, in every city, in every industry, in every organisation, in every household and in every practice - including in academic aeromobility. While there is a much denial (“flying is only 3% of global emissions”), techno-utopianism (electric airplanes, biofuels) and suggestions for inadequate behavior changes (pack light, travel with modern airplanes), it’s not possible to reach the necessary emission reductions without significantly decreasing flying.

At KTH Royal Institute of Technology, academic aeromobility constitutes 99% of CO2 emissions from business travel. To decrease carbon emissions from travel is basically equivalent to decreasing CO2 emissions from aeromobility. At the end of 2019, KTH’s President set the ambitious goal of reducing CO2 emissions from flying by 60% between 2020 and 2030 (equivalent to reductions of 9% per year). This obviously constitutes a major challenge and in order to decrease flying we first need to understand flying, e.g. who flies when, where and why? In a research project, “Decreased CO2-emissions in flight-intensive organisations”, we have developed visualization tools to understand, display and compare KTH emissions from flying between 2017-2019 (down to the level of each individual employee) and we are working with one department at each of the five Schools to help them achieve KTH’s emission reduction goals.

Visualizing data about flight and CO2 emissions, including inequalities both within and between departments, begs tough but necessary conversations: who gets to fly and who needs to reduce their flying? Living up to KTH’s goals will eventually necessitate conversations about what constitutes excellence and what constitutes a successful academic career in an age of escalating climate emergencies. We also need to ask questions about what characterizes prudence and responsibility for KTH employees a decade from now. 
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söndag 12 april 2020

My first Overleaf paper

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Overleaf


This blog post can only be interesting for colleagues of mine and other researchers who work in academia. You have been warned.

It's a bit weird to realize that I hardly ever write about concrete work practices that play such a large role in my daily life as an associate professor (researcher and teacher). I never write about how email structures my day or the fact that our sustainability research group has a Slack channel that is more active now (during the Corona shutdown) that ever before. The one tool that rivals mail in my everyday life though is Google documents. We use them for everything in our research group. A new [something] almost always starts with a new Google document. In our FLIGHT research project (that started in mid-2019) we (this far) have documents for:

- the research project application (the actual application + another document for brainstorming-about-the-text)
- running meeting notes from our weekly meetings in the project
- a GANTT scheme for when what (pre-Corona) was supposed to happen when in the project
- a variety of data (several spreadsheets)
- a list of research articles of interest (which has now been superseeded by a shared group in the reference tool Zotero)
- brainstorming ideas for new research papers
- each paper writing project we consider or initiate (on document with the actual text/academic paper + another document that is used for brainstorming about the text)
- a rebuttal that we wrote when a research paper was "conditionally" accepted (the paper was later accepted)
- another research grant application we were part of + a brainstorming document
- another future add-on and follow-up research grant application (after this project finishes)
- saving links to news articles, blogs and other resources of intest to us (including universities where interesting things happen and persons of interest)
- discussing criteria etc. for hiring a PhD student in the project (the document is from half a year ago, we have now hired someone who started to work with us recently)
- the research workshops we were supposed to do now but that have been Corona-postponed
- the test workshops Elina conducted in Lancaster (UK) when she travelled there in February
- discussing what departments we are or have recruited for the research workshops (one per School at KTH)
- discussing upcoming project presentations (including what exactly to say)
- project proposals for a project course (one group chose to work with us)
- a slide presentation with thesis opportunities (for master's and bachelor's theses students) (ten students are working with us in 5 pairs)
- another slide presentation (pitch for students in a project course) (three groups chose to work with us)
- there's also a folder that contains all our FLIGHT-related google documents

There are certainly more documents, but these are the most important shared documents. To keep track of everything I have a personal "document of documents" with links to everything (se image below). Every time I create a new google document, I also create a link to the new document in my document of documents. I'm unfortunately not equally good at removing old links (the document is currently 25 pages long).

My to-do list with links to all my Google documents



When I write a paper together with one or several coauthors, we usually start with one or more brainstorming sessions (preferably with a whiteboard nearby). Later on we look for the "main argument" of the paper and start to structure the idea(s) in a Google document. We then use a shared Google document to write the paper and end that process by transferring the text to the asked-for format of the conference or journal in question. My new PhD student, Aksel, only started to work with us recently, but has already (multiple times) suggested we should use Overleaf for final formatting work - and preferably also to use if from start to finish when we write papers. It's a hard sell since we have worked with Google docs for years and years and by now have fine-tuned structures and practices according to the affordances and limitations of Google docs. I suggested that when he eventually takes on the responsibility of being the first author of an article, he will have extended possibilities to decide how we will work (e.g. what tools we should use for that "writing project"). So far, so good.

And then there's the ACM new-and-improved format guides about what papers should look like. I'm not sure they are better than previous format guides - but they are for sure more complicated (on top of the previous also being complicated). So we had a deadline for submitting a paper this past Friday and I was the first author of that paper. Aksel convinced me we should "pour" the text from our Google document into Overleaf instad of Microsoft Word and I accepted the challenge since Aksel's suggestion also came with an offer for a one-hour private lesson on how to use Overleaf. I have in fact used Overleaf before (some), but I have to say the one-hour just-in-time lesson was a game changer. It was enough to get me going and for me to manage to do most of the job myself (Aksel later checked in to fix some things I didn't know how to easily manage, like placement of images and formatting of a table). So what's the verdict? Well, I have to say I'm impressed by the level of control you can have over what a document will looks like when you use Overleaf. Although I of course still have much to learn (Overleaf is very powerful), the level of control that you can have over the tiniest of details appeals to me as a control freak. I'm however even more impressed by the smooth integration between Overleaf and (in this case) the ACM reference format guide, as well as by Overleaf's handling of references.

I don't yet know if this will affect how we go about to write papers, but I suspect we might never again use Microsoft Word for final formatting and for other tasks that are related to the appearance of a document. I honestly don't know why I haven't switched earlier. Overleaf's power comes from (left in the image below) being able to work either with Rich Text (which very much looks like any document in any word processor) or directly with the source (running text + codes for describing the appearance of that text) - and then on the fly being able to generate a pdf of what a final version of the text would looks like (right in the image below). You can thus repeatedly experiment with code and generate a new pdf on the fly to see what the results will look like. It's not WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get), but what you loose in interactivity you gain in sheer control over every detail of the text's appearance.

Two examples (see image below):
1) keeping global average temperature \emph{“well below 2°C”} specifies that "well below 2°C" should be emphasized (in italics).
2) \section{From Moore’s law to the Carbon Law} specifies that "From Moore’s law to the Carbon Law" should follow the ACM rules for what a header should look like - and as an author I don't really have to care what exactly they look like (right image)

View in Overleaf. Source code to the left and final appearance to the right.

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söndag 5 april 2020

My first Zoom lecture

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Recreation of my distance lecture set-up (I had a shirt when I gave the real lecture). My new beard is a device for measuring (Corona quarantine) time. 


This past week I held my first Zoom lecture. I've given many lectures over the years and I've had many meetings over Zoom and Skype, but this was the first time I combined these two things. KTH transformed itself and went online with all its teaching in less than a week (I wrote about it recently), but I don't teach any courses during this period (2nd half of the spring), so I haven't had to deal much with this personally and on a practical level. I do meet 16 students who work in pairs writing their bachelor's theses every week over Zoom (group 1, group 2), but that't about it.

I was invited almost half a year ago to give a guest lecture about sustainability and computing to all undergraduate students in the Electrical Engineering programme in their "program integrating course". That's 200+ students - definitely a handful. I usually lecture to fewer students, but then again, it doesn't make much of a difference in Zoom as the delivery channel will look the same no matter how many students there are.

A complicating factor though is that my computer hard drive crashed two months ago and while I have pdf files of my lecture slides, I lost quite a few powerpoint slides and had to painstakingly recreate them. For all of these reasons I was a bit nervous and spent a lot of time putting together a slide deck and thinking about how a lecture through Zoom would differ from an ordinary lecture and what I should do about it.

After having held the lecture I have to say that it was ok (but probably not more than that). There were 200+ studentens "present" and the responsible teacher, James, was hosted the Zoom meeting and gave a short introduction. I was a guest lecturer and James controlled the technical aspects of the lecture so that I could concentrate on just talking/delivering the lecture. I encouraged the students to ask questions and asked James to monitor the Zoom chat channel and interrupt me if relevant and interesting questions would turn up. James muted all students so it was in fact only he who had the authority to interrupt me as I gave the lecture. I also didn't want to see the chat channel when I talked as it could be distracting. I think this was a good setup but despite the fact that there were 200+ students, there weren't a lot of questions. At least not until the break (we had a break in the middles just as in real lecture). I suggested students could use the break to pose questions (in the chat channel) and spent the break answering them in writing. I also took another 10 minutes to answer questions that were posed in the chat when we reconvened for the second half of the lecture.

I had two screens when I gave the talk; I had a pdf presentation with slides on my smaller (laptop) screen that I shared with the students through Zoom. On my second, external screen I had the Zoom interface (mostly an image of myself) and lecture notes. I also connected to the lecture through my smartphone. That way I could also be a participant and see exactly what the students saw. I still managed to start talking after the break without remembering to put on screen sharing again (until I was reminded).

All in all it was ok, but I would definitely have preferred to have met the students in a classroom (lecture hall). It was for example much harder to encourage the students to ask questions over Zoom that in a lecture hall. Perhaps that didn't matter much in this case as I had many slides and much to talk about, but still, it would probably have been better had I talked a tad bit less (and a bit slower) and allowed more time for questions. My take-away lessons to me a as lecturer (not limited to to the Zoom experience) are:

- I have realized I have a different and probably better attitude to giving a 10- or a 20-minute talk about a research paper than about giving a 90-minute lecture to students. For some reason I feel that I want to cram as much as possible into the lecture - which is very different from how I think about a shorter talk. If I give a short talk based on a research paper, I have realized (and internalized) that there is no way I can convey everything that is in the paper and everything that is relevant about the the paper - so the function of the talk is to whet the appetite of the audience and convince some (as many as possible) to actually pick up the paper and read it. Perhaps this would be a more productive attitude towards a lecture too, e.g. I can not convey everything there is to convey so how can I say something that makes the students interested in learning more?
- I have a lot more to say about "the problem" that I have to say about "solutions". That's partly because the problem is huge and it's not clear that proposed "solutions" will actually "solve" the problem. But still, if this is a guest lecture I think I should perhaps have as much to say about "solutions" (not "the solution" though) as I have to say about the problem. This is something for me to think about for future lectures.


Addendum (April 13). My union publishes has a website and a magazine, "Universitetsläraren" [The University Teacher]. There's a Swedish-language article from March 26, "Corona forces higher education institutions to digitalize at lightening speed". The Swedish Government held a press conference on March 17 where they recommended that higher education institutions (HEIs) should move all eduction online from the following day(!) and the article describes the efforts of moving everything online as "stressful" but also as a success story. It seems many HEIs have decided to use Zoom and in another article, "Capacity and use of Zoom multiplied in a week", some statistics are presented. From a few thousand simultaneous users and one million minutes per week, Zoom use during the week of The Great Transition increased to 60 000 simultaneous users and 15 million minutes in a week. To manage the onslaught, Zoom immediately bought capacity from Amazon Web Services' recently opened data center in Stockholm. The prognosis is that there will be 100 000 simultaneous users so Sunet (that delivers data services to Swedish HEIs) increased the capacity to 250 000 simultaneous users just to be on the safe side.

What I think is interesting is that Zoom and online education to a substantial extent are described as life-savers. I therefore think it's interesting that also critical perspectives are voiced. I always like to turn things around and I'm intellectually attracted to paradoxes and dilemmas. And so I have recently come to realize that if we didn't have Zoom, I doubt the Swedish Government would have closed all higher education institutions from one day to the other (as well as all high schools in Sweden). Students and teachers do not generally belong to Corona virus "risk groups" (those who do would of course have to stay home) and there are around 400 000 students and 75 000 employees at Swedish HEIs. If these students' exams would be delayed (while still handing out student loans and paying for employees' salaries), the decision to close down everything would have been considerably harder. Close to half a million students and employees are equivalent to almost 10% of the total Swedish workforce...

This also makes me wonder if one reason that societies have closed down (quarantine and all that) is that the comfortable middle class has cushy jobs that can be handled remotely. The working class still have to show up to make society run (water, sanitation, trash, transports, food, public transportation, daycare, schools, care for the elderly etc.), but a large part of the middle class can manage their jobs while being holed up at home. Perhaps that's the most important reason societies can and have shut down and why it's considered an ideal to stay at home? You could imagine that in some other time and place, stay-at-homers would be seen as cowards who scurry to be the first to leave a (possibly) sinking ship to (historically speaking) "head for their countryside villas" while everyone else has to stay in the city and endure the plague.

Finally, here's an even more critical exchange about higher education Corona distance education adaptations between two US professors I know:

Professor 1: One version of the story of the last couple of weeks has been how much upheaval organizations and institutions have gone through in order to switch to a virtual mode. But another is how smoothly they have mobilized ways of working in which they had already trained us. If we believe that education is simply "content", then the mode of its delivery becomes a matter of little concern. When work has already become casualized and virtualized, then the question of where it happens or who does it becomes immaterial. It's interesting to view platforms like Zoom not as tools being pressed into service to meet new circumstances, but as mechanisms that have been standing ready for the dissolution of the workplace all along.

Professor 2: I think it breaks apart the institutions as well. If you don’t have to be at the workplace then you could be working for anyone. It’s a step toward the gig economy for anyone who could work from home. It’s the breaking of the album into singles. It’s the home theater release of new movies. It’s arxiv, instead of journals. The university can just be a collection of outsourced services once there is a fluid market for faculty. Adjuncting on steroids.

Professor 1: The university becomes a logistics organization, coordinating deliveries. [...] the costs of the university are so easily moved onto the individual. In the same way that Uber relies on people to pay for the maintenance of their vehicles, the university is now relying on me to maintain the infrastructure by which I teach -- power, tech, networking, etc. They'll pay for my webcam but they ain't gonna pay for my network service

Perhaps the "success story" of moving online is no success story at all for students and university teachers?
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söndag 29 mars 2020

On the necessity of flying and of not flying (paper)

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This is the first paper that comes out of the FLIGHT project. More papers are being written as this is being written.

My last blog post was about a paper that has been accepted to the upcoming (virtual) ICT4S conference. We in fact also have another paper accepted, "On the necessity of flying and of not flying Exploring how computer scientists reason about academic travel". The paper-writing was again spearheaded by my colleague Elina Eriksson and the other authors were Daniel Pargman, Markus Robèrt and Jarmo Laaksolahti. This is in fact the very first paper that comes out of our 2019-2022 "FLIGHT" research project. The real/full name of the project is "Decreased CO2-emissions in flight-intensive organisations: from data to practice". There is much activity in the project and we have turned to paper-writing now that other activities are put on hold by the Covid-19 crisis.

This paper is both a side project compared to the main thrust as well as a background project. These are two different ways of saying that the paper is interesting but possibly a bit peripheral in relation to the project goals. The paper builds on a travel survey that was conducted at KTH a year ago. The survey is not part of the FLIGHT research project but it was conducted by FLIGHT project member Markus Robèrt on behalf of KTH, was sent out to all employees at KTH and contains a large number of free text answers. The empirical part of the paper builds on these free text answers, but the analysis has been restricted to answers given by employees at (only) the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) - which also happens to be the school where I and all project members with the exception of Markus Robèrt works.

The survey answers we analyze were more specifically answers to the following four questions:
- “A large part of the emissions at KTH come from air travel. What do you think should be done to reduce these emissions?
- “How do you contribute to KTH's sustainability goals regarding reduced air travel?
- “Do you experience any disadvantages with meetings via videoconference or web meeting?
- “Other comments?” (the very last open ended question)

The survey was answered anonymously and the answers are not in any way representative of anything - but they do represent a range of opinions from computer scientists (broadly defined) about their own and their colleagues' habits of flying, ranging all the way from “KTH should increase its flying; an excellent way of making great contacts. Sustainability goals are a political hoax” to “Since January 1, 2019, I have stopped flying for work, so it will be train, boat or video conferencing instead”. Below is the paper abstract:


ABSTRACT

In order to fulfill the Paris agreement, we need to drastically reduce carbon emissions globally. 2020 is a pivotal year in this endeavour as many projections indicate that emissions need to decrease significantly before 2030. This challenge pertains to all parts of society, including (computer science) researchers. This however clashes with the fact that flying to a large extent has become built-in to the everyday practices of research and of academic life. It is feasible to imagine that computer scientists could fly less than other academics since we ought to be innovators and early adopters of computer-mediated alternatives such as teleconferencing and other forms of digital meeting technologies. It is however also possible that we fly more because conferences might be a more dominant outlet for publications in our field in comparison to other research fields. At KTH Royal Institute of Technology, the researchers at the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) fly the most. In this paper, we present initial qualitative results from a survey regarding travel that was answered by computer scientists at EECS. We are in particular analyse the free text answers in order to understand how computer scientists reason about their own flying and about the alternatives. It will be hard to fulfil the Paris agreement without decreasing flying significantly, but this requires us to rethink how we do research, and how we travel (or not) within academia. This paper contributes with knowledge about the perceived barriers and drivers for computer scientists to decrease their flying.
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torsdag 26 mars 2020

Systems Thinking exercises in Computing Education (paper)

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We played games from "The Systems Thinking Playbook for Climate Change" with our students. Then we wrote a paper about it,


Our paper, "Systems Thinking exercises in Computing Education - broadening the scope of ICT and sustainability" has been accepted to the upcoming ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S) conference. The paper is written by Elina Eriksson, Miriam Börjesson Rivera, Björn Hedin, Daniel Pargman and Hanna Hasselqvist. The conference itself was supposed to have been held in Bristol during the second half of June but has now moved online.

This paper is based on our work of introducing Systems Thinking and in particular Systems Thinking games into our sustainability education. We introduced Systems Thinking games in our course about "Sustainability and Media Technology" during two course rounds and then expanded the role of Systems Thinking this past autumn (and will expand it again the next time the course is given).

The paper is a more or less straightforward narration of what we did, how we did it, lessons learned etc. The paper can also be seen as a follow-up to the paper that my colleague Elina Eriksson and me wrote and presented at the (2014) 2nd ICT4S conference in Stockholm, “ICT4S Reaching Out: Making sustainability relevant in higher education". This paper starts the conclusion byt stating that:

"To sum up our experience, we can only warmly recommend using systems thinking games as a tool in sustainability education for computing students. There was a wealth of aspects that could be used as examples in our education, to point back to and remind students of how systems work."


We originally encountered the idea of using Systems Thinking games in a great ICT4S 2014 paper by Steve Easterbrook, "From Computational Thinking to Systems Thinking". It was after attending the (2018) 5th ICT4S conference in Toronto and actually playing such games together with Steve that we seriously started to consider trying this on in our own courses. The games themselves come from "The Systems Thinking Playbook for Climate Change" by Sweeney, Meadows and Mehers (see image above - also available online as a pdf file!). We have used four different games (Group Juggle, Harvest, Living Loops and 1-2-3-Go) of which most time (in class) is spend with the game Harvest (about the commons and individual vs collective rationality).

The paper has been accepted to ICT4S and we have a bit more than 10 days to take the reviewers' comments into account and do minor edits before we submit the camera-ready version of the paper. Here's the abstract:


ABSTRACT
Integrating sustainability in computing education entails broadening the scope of the education, but how can that be done while maintaining student engagement? Climate change and species extinction can appear far removed from data structures and algorithms to say the least. In our ongoing work of integrating sustainability in our Media Technology programme, we have addressed this gap by introducing systems thinking games and activities to broaden the scope, as well as by situating the issues addressed in the course in relation to their future profession. In this paper, we present our experiences of introducing and playing systems thinking games, how the systems thinking exercise sessions were conducted, outcomes of the sessions and finally some lessons learnt. Furthermore, we present and analyse changes we did to the exercises and that led to a richer material for discussions in the classroom.
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söndag 22 mars 2020

Corona adaptations

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Corona adaptations. My current workplace.

I guess there is only one topic this blog post could possibly treat and that is how Corona has affected my own and others' teaching practices during the last 10 days or so.

I'd say that for me personally, the shit hit the fan on Thursday March 12. I had group supervision with six bachelor's thesis students and my guest, Kelly Widdicks, tagged along. At the beginning of the session I asked the students if they were personally worried about Corona and the answer was "not for my own health but perhaps the socially responsible thing would be to stay home". We switched to speaking English at that session to include Kelly in our conversation, but she was distracted and also left the classroom twice. It turned out that when we ended our two-hour meeting, Kelly had re-booked here ticket back to the UK from Saturday and she left Sweden that same afternoon after she had held a lunch seminar about her research at another department with a lackluster turnout (many had chosen to stay home that day). And then things went downhill.

The next supervision meeting with the same students happened exactly one week later (Thursday March 19) was done through videoconference (using Zoom) and the topic of the day was Corona adaptations of the students' bachelor's theses. Meeting outside of Zoom was no longer an option at that point since KTH had closed its doors to all students the day before. As of Wednesday March 18, the students' keycards don't work any longer and they can not enter KTH buildings. Me together with all other faculty can still enter KTH, but have personally worked from home since Thursday March 19 for two reasons. The first is that it's is being said that it's not advisable to go by subway, but the second and more important reason is that they closed my youngest son's school on Thursday and Friday (March 19-20) to retool and switch to distance education. He and all other sixth graders are welcome back on Monday for a half-day tutorial on how to handle the new situation and the online/distance education tools but his school will be closed during the following two weeks after that (and then there's a one week long Easter break when they reassess the situation). As apart from much of Europe, Swedish schools are not mandated to close, but they apparently have the option and I presume they took that decision after it seemed to be the socially responsible thing to do but primarily since increasing numbers of parents started to keep their children home from school. My son treated Thursday and Friday as vacation (or weekend) and tensions ran high as both me and my wife worked from home while he wanted to use the TV to play computer games (and loudly banter with his online friends).


I could thus continue to go to KTH to work if I wanted to (it's empty), but I would then possibly chose to go by bike instead of subway. With two kids at home (12 and 16) I would however then leave all "ground service" at home to my wife. I might still go to KTH now and then during the following week(s) but I will probably also work a lot from home.

I have had an extraordinary number of Zoom (video conference) meetings during the last few days and I'm now learning new things about how to work with Zoom. The biggest problem I have is that the internet connection from my balcony sometimes is sub-standard with sound dropping for upwards to 5 or 10 seconds. The balcony is still where I prefer to go to be able to talk freely without disturbing others. Some things are easy to shift to online but other things are very hard to manage remotely. Much work during the latter part of the week was about retooling. I'm the advisor of 8 pairs of students who write their bachelor's thesis this spring (see this and this blog post) and while some have fewer problem and just shift their planned interviews to online, others have planned to recruit people to do focus groups/design workshops - which will now not happen. It's also a huge challenge to manage the 17-student Homo Colossus@Expo 2020 project online instead of in person. What really sucks is that we just now got a project room at KTH where we can work and hang out - except of course that we can't hang out there during the Corona virus shutdown.

Still, I talked to a colleague abroad and he said it was sad to realize that besides working from home, very little is different in what he does during the self-imposed Corona quarantine and what he ordinarily does at his job - and I agree. This shutdown does not affect my job very much. I do what I ordinarily do, e.g. work with a variety of tasks where I use my computer and while I prefer to do them at KTH for a number or reasons, it is also possible to do them from elsewhere with only a minor decline in the quality of the time I put in. The one big difference (which isn't that big/problematic) is that I have shifted my meetings from in-person to online.


If I lift the perspective from my personal situation to that of my colleagues at the department, it seems we retooled to online in a very short amount of time. The new courses started this past week (Monday March 16) and there was a concerted effort to help teachers switch to online in no time at all. A KTH IT and a pedagogical support helpdesk function was open all weekend to help teachers cope and solve practical problems to "mission: move all teaching online". From my lowly perspective, we actually seem to cope well at KTH, switching all our education to online in no time at all. While the Corona crisis is a challenge, my colleagues and higher ups are smart and have made smart decisions - like the decision to allow/encourage people to solve their own problems instead of trying to run things from "up above".

At our department, we have a collaboratively authored Google document about teaching practices during Covid-19. Since I last saw that document, someone has now erected a better structure and the document is currently seven pages long and has headers with titles such as "Ideas on how to re-design a course, and communicate it to the students", "Lecturing", "Project assignments", "Use of labs", "Master/Bachelor thesis", "Divide students into groups", "Work discipline/studying together at a distance" and "About/tracking Corona".

It could be that I'm misinformed, but from my perspective it seems that shift all courses to online  works OK and this makes me proud of my brilliant colleagues. I've asked students and they also say it's "OK" as in "passable" or better. Both teachers and students of course realize that this is an extraordinary situation that requires extraordinary measures and we all try to make the best of it together. I'm privileged in as much as I have the pleasure to for the most part work very motivated, self-directed and goal-oriented students.


Most impressive feat: My colleague Anders Lundström fixed "goody bags" for the students who are taking his course. The course started this past week and can't be taught without students having access to concrete materials. The were of course supposed to work with this at KTH but the course was retooled and necessary materials were delivered to their homes in suitably-branded paper bags (see below)! Here's Anders' March 18 Facebook post:

"During the past day we have been able to gather materials and distribute these bags to 56 students taking the DM1588 sensorprogramming course. Some have even been delivered outside their door! It is essential that the students have materials to make their homes into labspaces, otherwise this course makes little sense. Many thanks to the students and teaching assistants for their efforts in making this possible! There is hope!"



Good luck with your own Corona life. Also I encourage you to write a comment to this blog post about how the Corona crisis/shutdown affects you in your job.

Corona adaptations. From my Facebook post on this topic: 
"Finally proved my wife wrong when she 10 years ago ERRONEOUSLY claimed we would have NO USE of the National Encyclopedia on paper..."
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