torsdag 16 februari 2017

eSports and professional game play

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Me and a Daniel Svensson wrote and presented a paper, "21st century sports: Movements without movements" at a smaller, local cultural studies conference in Sweden a few years ago. The paper was the result of a side project and while we both really liked the paper, none of us have given enough time and attention to getting it published afterwards. I for one decided that the MULTI.PLAYER 2 games conference in Münster two and a half years ago was my last computer games conference and the other Daniel was busy writing his ph.d. thesis at the department of History of Science, Technology and Environment at the KTH School of Architecture and the Built Environment). He presented it just before Christmas and it's called “Scientizing performance in endurance sports: The emergence of ‘rational training’ in cross-country skiing, 1930-1980” (pdf available here).

So while we both liked the paper and thought it had potential, nothing came out of our wish to publish it either at a computer games conference/journal or at a sports venue (we were at one point for example looking at the European College of Sport Science conference and journal).

Until now, that is. I recently saw an invitation to a special issue that fit our paper perfectly. While I had not heard about the journal before, the International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations (IJGCMS) is, according to "the Norwegian list" an OK journal. Here's (parts of) the Call for Papers (bold text fits us especially well):

CFP:  eSports and professional game play

The purpose of this second special issue is to investigate the rise of eSports.

Much has happened in the area of professional gaming since the Space Invaders Championship of 1980. We have seen live Internet streaming eclipse televised eSports events, such as on the American show Starcade.

Authors are invited to submit manuscripts that
· Examine the emergence of eSports
· The uses of streaming technology
· Traditions of games that support professional players – chess, go, bridge, poker, league of legends, Dota 2, Starcraft
· Fan perspectives
· Professional player perspectives
· Market analysis
· Meta-analyses of existing research on eSports
· Answer specific questions such as:
How should game user research examine the emergence of eSports? 
Should we differentiate pragmatic and hedonic aspects of the game? 
What are the methodologies for conducting research on the elderly identity, and the uses and design of games for the elderly?

[...]

Mission – IJGCMS is a peer-reviewed, international journal devoted to the theoretical and empirical understanding of electronic games and computer-mediated simulations. IJGCMS publishes research articles, theoretical critiques, and book reviews related to the development and evaluation of games and computer-mediated simulations. One main goal of this peer-reviewed, international journal is to promote a deep conceptual and empirical understanding of the roles of electronic games and computer-mediated simulations across multiple disciplines. A second goal is to help build a significant bridge between research and practice on electronic gaming and simulations, supporting the work of researchers, practitioners, and policymakers.

We have made only minimal changes to our paper and felt compelled to write a note explaining that none of the authors have followed the games research scene during the last few years but were more than willing to to follow any suggestions from the reviewers about texts/papers they think we should read up on. For more information, please see this earlier blog post about the paper as well as the just-written abstract:

21st century sports: Movements without movements 

Modern sports have gone through a process of “sportification”, moving from loosely regulated games and play towards becoming progressively more managed and regulated. Computer games have correspondingly gone from being a leisure activity for kids and teenagers to becoming a competitive activity, “esports”, with international competitions and professional players. We argue that there is a tight connections between the sportification of traditional (physical) sports and modernity just as it is possible to see the emergence of “21st century sports” such as esports as portending a post-modern society. There are naturally many differences, but also significant similarities between traditional sports and 21st century sports as both move towards standardized, rationalized, medialized and commercialized competitive arenas. In this article we explore both the similarities and the differences through the lens of sportification.
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måndag 13 februari 2017

The food, the environment and the worms (seminar)

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One of the two research projects I work in, "Sustainable practices and data: Design and opportunities for change" (SPOC) organized a Swedish-language 4-hour workshop/half-day seminar this past week on "The food, the environment and the worms: How do we design a better food system?". Which sounds better in Swedish due to the alliteration ("maten, miljön och maskarna").

While the project also involves ICT and design, the seminar focused more exclusively on food and sustainability and we had two great invited speakers, Gunnar Rundgren (farmer, author) and Karin Wendin (professor). We also took the opportunity to present our research project (my colleague Cecilia Katzeff did that) while I was leading and hosting the event. See the invitation below for further information.

I thought both talks were great but will only discuss Gunnar's talk here. He was the main speaker and he has just come out with a book (published in both Swedish and English), "The great eating disorder". He brought a few copies and I bought my own copy of the Swedish-language book. Gunnar's talk was choke-full of facts and I am sure he could have talked for much longer had we given him the chance. I found three threads running through his talk, namely 1) the connection between the food system, technological developments and social practices, 2) the connection between the food system and energy and 3) the overarching connection between economic incentives and the food system (also workings its way through points 1 and 2). Examples of each is:

- How dinner habits changed changed together the microwave oven. One example is the microwave oven that portended the death of social eating due to the fact that it was no longer necessary to gather around the table and eat the same food at the same time. Another is refrigerated boats/containers that revolutionized what food we put on our plates (food miles etc.).
- The modern (industrialized) food system is optimized for minimizing hours (work time) per calorie produced and we do a lot of things that does make sense economically but that on the whole is really very stupid (e.g. we waste a lot of energy). We use very large amounts of energy for fertilizer, pesticides, agricultural machinery, food processing, transportation, refrigeration and cooking.
- The underlying driving force is of course money (economic incentives) and it leads us down a one-way street of bad (and sometimes immoral) decisions. Optimizing the breeding of cows so that their udders fit milking machines (but not any longer human hands) makes sense only during very specific conditions and leaves few options should the electricity be cut for a longer period of time. Optimizing yield by breeding chickens and wheat that are 100% dependent on human "care" seems deranged when you realize how fragile (and how much energy inputs) current food production practices are.

Something around two-thirds of the seminar was spent listening to the talks and the last hour was spent on a small-group exercise where groups were tasked with thinking about visionary change to the food system in the near future. Accepting that our current food system is unsustainable, how do we design a new food system? More specifically, "In the year 2030, we will..." We suggested a range of topics (including the topic our second speaker talked about, i.e. changing our diet to eating insects) and asked the groups to think about about best case scenario. We also asked them to limit themselves and to think about one solution to one problem. Finally we also listed three questions to get the group discussions going. In 2030:
- Where does the food come from?
- How do we produce food?
- How do we eat food?

We finally encouraged the groups to not shy away from formulating bold, radical ideas that were provocative! We had five groups working on different concepts in parallell but I will settle for discussing the results of my own group. I teamed up with Gunnar Rundgren (a fountain of detailed information about the food system) and we were joined by master's student Andrea. Here's the task I suggested and that my group worked with:

- Historically, agriculture has delivered upwards to ten times the energy out (in the form of the energy content of the food) compared to energy in (human and animal energy invested in agriculture). One farmer could potentially produce food for himself and for upwards to nine other persons.
- Modern industrial agriculture instead uses upwards to ten time more energy (fertilizer, pesticides, agricultural machinery, food processing, transportation etc.) than it delivers and this only works because (fossil) fuels contain so much energy and have been so cheap for so long. A tractor uses a lot of energy, but that energy has been very inexpensive compared to the time (salary) of the farmer who sits in the tractor. We thus subsidize agriculture energy-wise as we constantly strive towards optimizing productivity (food out) per working hour.

Modern agriculture thus delivers a lot of food and it certainly delivers in terms of food per hour invested/spent on farming, but it might use upwards to 100 times more energy per calorie-delivered-from-the-food-system compared to pre-modern (pre-fossil fuels) agriculture. So my question was: what would have to go away and what would into vogue if we voluntarily chose to, or involuntarily were forced to shift to an energy-efficient food system. More specifically, what would happen if we had to go from 10:1 to 1:1 in terms of energy inputs in the next 10-15 years? We can still use energy inputs, but only a tenth of what we use today per calorie delivered. What, for example could be learned from current or historical low-energy agricultural practices? Here are some of our suggestions in terms of what would have to go (out) and what would come back (in):

- Heated greenhouses and vertical farming in cities would go and root crops (carrots etc.) would come back.
- Feedlot operations would go and grazing would come back into vogue.
- A lot of overly detailed "unnecessary" regulation would have to go and small-scale operations would come back. Common sense permaculture principles would become very popular, i.e. output from one agricultural process would become input to the next process instead of (over-)specialization and monocultures.
- Cooking practices would change and raw food or food that does not necessitate cooking or heating would become more popular (or necessary).
- Global streamlining of the food system would become harder and diversity in terms of utilizing local assets/production factors would become much more important.
- Commodification of food would decrease and non-market food production would increase (producing of oneself or trading/giving away food to family or neighbors).
- Urbanization would stop and metropolis/megacity would decline. Instead we would see an increased ruralization, i.e. people moving back to the countryside (perhaps accompanied by land reform). More people living in the countryside would also help better close local nutrient loops, that is, people to a higher extent living and eating food grown locally instead of transporting food hither and dither.
- Food waste would of course decrease. Perhaps scraps would be kept and fed to chickens or pigs even in the cities?
- Refrigerated container ships would be out and sail ships would make a comeback. It certainly can't get cheaper than that - energy-wise - to transport food.
- Fragility would decrease and robustness would increase.

I think the exercise turned out fine and that the day was a success. Only after the event did I realize we could have disseminated the information a little more aggressively. I could had spread the information to the students who took our sustainability course before Christmas and my colleague Björn who will advise no less than six bachelor's students on food-related topics could have invited these specific students! That's a pity but all in all still a great seminar. Here's an English-language translation of the invitation:

The food, the environment and the worms: How do we design a better food system?

Our food system is dysfunctional. We do by all means get cheap food, but the environmental impact is large and progress sometimes goes in the right but sometimes also in the wrong direction! What are the problems and what are the proposed solutions? Can part of the solution be found in the use of design and information technologies that challenge and inspire everyone who cooks and eats food (that is, all of us) to change our habits at the supermarket, in the kitchen and by the planter ("odlingslåda") in a more sustainable direction?

Gunnar Rundgren is a farmer, author and consultant and he was a founder of the KRAV eco-label 30 years ago. Gunnar Rundgren recently published his latest book, "The great eating disorder: food, power, environment". He describes how our food system - from agriculture to food processing to trade and all the way into the households - do (not) work.

Karin Wendin is a professor of food and culinary arts at Kristianstad University and is also associated with the Swedish Technical Research Institute (SP). Karin Wendin has done research on the future of food - on eating insects as the tasty, nutritious and environmentally friendly alternative to meat - when space and resources become tight.
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söndag 5 februari 2017

Party in my home

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I have complained about the distance between me and my students several times on this blog. Back in 2011 I wrote a text about "the student-teacher gap" and I followed it up with a 2012 text about "Bridging the distance between me and my students". The latter text describes an experiment that later failed (but it hadn't and I didn't know it would fail at the time when I wrote the blog post).

My conclusion back then was that the only students I really got to know and that I had a personal relationship with were the (few) students to whom I was their bachelor's or master's thesis advisor. These students I actually did know (some) and I could quite easily write a letter of recommendation for them. It was very hard to write such a letter to students who instead took one of my courses together with 50 or 60 other students. This was not very satisfying neither for me nor my/our students (I presume). It felt like we passed each other by on conveyor belts that were moving in the opposite direction. My course was one out of many courses they took and I was just one out of many teachers. To me they were part of a constant stream of students who flowed through my courses and continued elsewhere - out of sight. Only a few students managed to make a strong impression on me. I have also realized that I hardly know anything at all on a personal level even about those few students who actually did made an impression on me.

The university I describe above has become an "education factory" with the students as raw materials to be moulded. During the last few years, a few things have finally started to happen that have changed the situation fundamentally - at least on the master's level.

The first was my sabbatical at University of California Irvine three years ago. I was very inspired by sitting in Bill Tomlinson's lab together with for the most part his graduate students. Graduate students means master's students and ph.d. students. The big divide there was between studies at the bachelor's level and the master's level. Even though not all master's students continue to pursue a ph.d., the master's level studies were much more directed towards research (and interaction with ph.d. students and researchers) than studies at the same level is in Sweden. This also differs a lot from Sweden where there the big divide instead is between master's level students and ph.d. students - who are hired, get a more-than-decent salary, are covered by the social insurance system (get sick leave, parental leave etc.) and so on. It was very inspiring to see many examples of how master's students were part of the research effort to a much higher extent and how they were seen as an asset. I imagine it must be much more satisfying for the master's students to be involved in "real research" too.

The second was the fact that some students wanted us to continue to have regular seminars also after our course ended one and a half years ago. We continued to meet for half a semester and I wrote a blog post about it ("Student Sustainability Lunch Seminars"). It ended after a few months due to the extended Christmas break and due to the the fact that most students then started to write their master's theses and had other things on their mind. Still, it was very inspiring to have a student (August E!) stand up in front of the other students and query about their interest in continuing to meet and talk about sustainability also after the course ended.

The third and most decisive change is this year's switch to a new master's program in "Interactive Media Technology" where the new program replaces the two previous programs we had. Me and Elina have pitched two new master's level courses for the new program and the first has been developed ("DM2720 Sustainable ICT in practice") and is currently given to our first cohort of master's students in the new program. The second (yet-to-be-developed) course would have been given a year from now if not for the fact that I will be on a sabbatical then - so we will give next year a pass and start giving it the year after that. A new project course (replacing my project course "Future of Media") will also be given for the first time during the next academic year, but we don't know that much about it at this point. Finally our first crop of students in the new master's program will write their master's theses next spring (Jan-June 2018) and the difference between these students and those who do so now is that next year's students will have taken two of our courses on ICT and Sustainability rather than just one.

Having read one rather than two courses about Sustainability and ICT might not sound like a huge difference, but it is. The first course is compulsory and 50-70 students study it every year. The new course is voluntary and exclusive - only 17 students are taking it and that really does change everything. Now I have circled back to the main topic of this blog post - the relationship between me as a teacher and my students. With 14 out of 17 students being graduates of our previous course that we gave just before Christmas, I knew the names of every single students in our course already at the very first lecture. This means there is a foundation for a personal relationship with each student already when the course starts. The fact that there are few rather than many students means there is a different ambiance and much greater opportunities for interacting during breaks etc. Since these students are as close as it's possible to come to being "our" students, the clincher was that I invited them all (as well all members of our research team) to a cocktail party in my home this past weekend. Nine students from the course showed up (as well as some research team members) and we had a great time eating, drinking and talking until the last guests ambled away at 11.30 pm. It was also interesting to see my kids interact with the students - my oldest son talked to one of the students about his studies and with another student about computer games and my youngest son got very attached to a student and spontaneously gave her a big hug when she left.

I don't yet know what the "effect" of inviting my students to a party is but I imagine it's pretty rare for students to see the inside of their teachers' homes - I just assume it must have been a first for most or for all of the students. I didn't primarily invite the students to my home for it to have any particular "effect" but rather just because it seemed like a good idea - it's nice, we have the space and they are a manageable bunch size-wise. I do however imagine that one effect is that we will be much more proactive in recruiting master's students to write their theses in our research projects next year. It might be hard to headhunt and match students with specific tasks since we still don't really know what particular interests individual students have and how these interests of theirs could match our research projects. It could the be that the new project course (next year) might set them on a course that could be matched by tailored offers but at this point we'll just have to wait and see. A good start is that some students have chosen to join our research team's distribution list so we will have opportunities to better learn what their interests are from now on and they will also have opportunities to learn some about what it is we are doing during from now on.
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tisdag 31 januari 2017

Books I've read (Jan)

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I read the three books below just about a year ago, between mid-December 2015 and January 2016. They all treat the topic of the commons, e.g. the space beyond market and state that many of us nowadays can't even see. It shouldn't be too hard for Swedes to get it though since we still have "Allmansrätten" ("everyman's right" or "the freedom to roam"). The freedom to roam is not quite as strong as the idea of the commons were back in the days, but it still goes a long way compared to the privatized regimes in many other countries in the world. All three books below discuss the relevance of the commons (greater than ever) and the applicability of the concept (lots of structural barriers, not the least mental). 

To be honest, it felt hard to write this blog post since it feels like a lot of time has passed since I read these books. The asterisks below represent the number of quotes from the each book (see further below) and here's the previous blog post about books I have read.



I honestly don't know what to say about Christian Siefkes "From exchange to contributions: Generalizing peer production into the physical world" (2007). This book is self-published and the best I can say is that it's a very early and hopeful text about the emancipatory potential of peer production and that it's available for free at peerconomy.org.  The book unfortunately screams "I sat at home and thought this all out all by myself!". I did unfortunately not find any noteworthy quotes at all in the book although I might have had I read it ten years ago - when it was published. Siefkes holds a ph.d. in computer science (from 2007) and works as a freelance software engineer. Since the book has very little to do with his previous research, I think it's fair to call Siefkes a "free thinker" who sometimes dabbles in writing books. He wrote a five pages long text in the book below. His personal webpage looks as if it was created back in the days (e.g. very little design thinking involved). 



***************** "The wealth of the commons: A world beyond market and state" (2012) is edited by David Bollier and Silke Helfrich and contains a motley collection of no less than 73 different contributions. The book has a website of its own and the editors are presented as authors, activists and independent scholars. David Bollier is from the US and I have previously read a book where he is prominently featured, Walljasper's "All that we share". Silke Helfrich is German and I do believe I heard her talk at the Degrowth conference I attended in Venice back in 2012. 

The book was followed up by the "companion volume" in 2015, "Patterns of Commoning", with the same editors, the same publisher and even with the same looks. The fact that "The wealth of the commons" had 73 contributions and that these texts are all over the place is unfortunately a deterrent for me. I am not reassured by the fact that the newer book has "more than fifty original essays". The problem here is that I wish the editors would have done a better job of procuring texts or guiding authors in such a way that the book would have a slightly more unified perspective. The diversity made it hard to grasp the focus or even the core of the ideas and concept(s) that these modern-day commoners want to promote and disseminate. I guess you could say that the book presents "the full breadth" of the current thinking, but that just leaves the hard work of figuring out what this is about to me as a reader. This book for sure gave me many new perspectives on the commons, but the texts were very uneven and the kaleidoscopic perspective made me dizzy. It would have been a better book had a quarter of the texts been removed (or better adapted to fit the focus of the book). 

The book is divided into five parts and I for the most part preferred the two first parts which on the whole were more fundamental and more theoretical: 1) The commons as a new paradigm, 2) Capitalism, enclosure and resistance, 3) Commoning - A social innovation for our time, 4) Knowledge commons for social change and 5) Envisioning a commons-based policy and production framework.



**************** "Understanding knowledge as a commons: From theory to practice" (2007) is edited by Charlotte Hess and Elinor Ostrom. Yes, it's that Elinor Ostrom, the political economist who won the "fake" Nobel prize in economics back 2009 (but Ostrom is legit - it's not her fault the economics prize tries to smooch prestige from the real Nobel prize). This is basically the book I wish "The wealth of the commons" would have been and the secret sauce is the fact that the foundation of this book was a 2004 workshop on "Scholarly Communication as a Commons" that the editors hosted and almost all contributors attended. That means all authors have some kind of intuitive understanding of what it's all about and more or less pull in the same-ish direction. This makes the book much easier to read despite the fact that the texts objectively are more difficult (written by specialized academics for other specialized academics for the most part).

The main and more or less only topic of the books is "the knowledge commons", i.e. the relevance and the use of "commons thinking" to scholarly matters, including libraries and archives, open access and, of course, The Internet. The book is thus much more wonky but also more "substantial". All contributions are written by academics/researchers with the exception of David Bollier (above) who is back again with a contribution about "The growth of the commons paradigm". The book is divided into three parts; "Studying the knowledge commons", "Protecting the knowledge commons" and "Building new knowledge commons".

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----- On enclosures as pure evil -----
"Enclosures are dispossessing tens of millions of farmers and pastoralists whose lives depend upon customary land commons in Africa, Asia and Latin America. They are disenfranchising urban dwellers whose parks and public spaces are being turned into private, commercial developments; and Internet users who are beset by new copyright laws, digital encryption and international treaties that lock up culture ...  For example, the World Trade Organisation, which purports to advance human development through free trade, is essentially a system for seizing non-market resources from communities, dispossessing people and exploiting fragile ecosystems with the full sanction of international and domestic law. This achievement requires an exceedingly complicated legal and technical apparatus, along with intellectual justifications and political support. Enclosure must be mystified through all sorts of propaganda, public relations and the co-optation of dissent. This process has been critical in the drive to privatize lifeforms, supplant biodiverse lands with crop monocultures, censor and control Internet content, seize groundwater supplies to create proprietary bottled water, appropriate indigenous knowledge and culture, and convert self-reproducig agricultural crops into sterile, proprietary seeds that must be bought again and again."
Bollier, D., & Helfrich, S. (2012). In The Wealth of the Commons, p.xii, xvii.


----- On the commons as the (only?) alternative to a state that is beholden to business interests -----
"The financial meltdown of 2007-2008 revealed that the textbook idealization of democratic capitalism is largely a sham. The "free market" is not in fact self-regulating and private, but extensively dependent upon public interventions, subsidies, risk-mitatiation and legal privileges. The state does not in fact represent the sovereign will of the people ... rather, the system is a more or less closed oligopoly of elite insiders. The political and personal connections between the largest corporations and government are so extensive as to amount to collusion. ... The state in many countries amount to a partner of clans, mafia-like structures or dominant ethnicities; in other countries it amounts to a junior partner of the market fundamentalist project. It is charged with advancing privatization, deregulation, budget cutbacks, expansive private property rights and unfettered capital investment. The state provides a useful fig leaf of legitimacy and due process for the market's agenda, but there is little doubt that private capital has overwhelmed democratic, non-market interests except at the margins. State intervention to curb market excesses is generally ineffective and palliative. ... the presumption that the state can and will intervene to represent the interests of citizens is no longer credible. Unable to govern for the long term, captured by commercial interests and hobbled by stodgy bureaucratic structures in an age of nimble electronic networks, the state is arguably incapable of meeting the needs of citizens as a whole. The inescapable conclusion is that the mechanisms and processes of representative democracy are no longer a credible vehicle for the change we need. Conventional political discourse, itself an aging artifact of another era, is incapable of naming our problems, imagining alternatives and reforming itself. This, truly, is why the commons has such a potentially transformative role to play.
Bollier, D., & Helfrich, S. (2012). In The Wealth of the Commons, p.xiii-xiv.


----- On "Economic man" as the bastard son of biology and economics -----
"Charles Darwin, the biologist, adapted [Malthus' idea of scarcity] to a comprehensive theory of natural change and development. In its wake concepts as "struggle for existence," "competition," "growth" and "optimization" tacitly became centerpieces of our self-understanding: biological, technological, and social progress is brought forth by the sum of individual egoisms. In perennial competition, fit species (powerful corporations) exploit niches (markets) and multiply their survival rate (return margins), whereas weaker (less efficient) ones go extinct (bankrupt). ... By this exchange of metaphors, economics came to see itself more and more as a "hard" natural science. It derived its models from biology and physics - leading all the way up to the mathematical concept of Homo economicus. This chimera - a machine-like egoist always seeking to maximize his utility - has become the hidden, but all-influencing model of humanity. Its shadow is still cast over newer psychological and game-theoretical approaches. Reciprocally, evolutionary biology also gained inspiration from economical models. The "selfish gene," e.g., is not much more but a Homo economicus mirrored back to biochemistry. We can call this alliance between biology and economics and "economic ideology of nature."
Bollier, D., & Helfrich, S. (2012). In The Wealth of the Commons, p.7.


----- On consumption, decoupling and happiness -----
"Often, sustainability thinking doesn't question the notion that higher rates of consumption lead to individual happiness; it simply focuses rather on low-carbon ways of making the same consumer goods. Yet as we enter the world of resource constraints, we will need to link satisfaction and happiness to other less tangible things like community, meaningful work, skills and friendships."
Hopkins, R. (2012). In The Wealth of the Commons, p.21.


----- On the commons providing "invisible" values -----
"The commons provide services that are often taken for granted by their users: many of those who benefit from the commons do not take into account their intrinsic value, only acknowledging it once the commons are destroyed and substitutes need to be found. ... In other words you don't miss something until it is gone. An example is the role served by mangroves in coastal regions. When making development decision, people take their existence for granted and simply do not consider their important role in protecting coastal villages from tsunami waves. Only when a tsunami hits, destroying villages, does the value of such vegetation becomes apparent. It would be highly expensive to build a similar, artificial barrier."
Mattei, U. (2012). In The Wealth of the Commons, p.28.


----- On the anticommons -----
"Privatizing the commons may cure the tragedy of wasteful overuse, but it may inadvertently spark the opposite. English lacks a term to denote wasteful underuse [so] I coined the phrase tragedy of the anticommons. The term covers any setting in which too many people can block each other from creating or using a valuable resources. Rightly understood, the opposite of overuse in a commons is underuse in an anticommons. ... Group access in a commons also has an anticommons parallel: group exclusion in which a limited number of owners can block each other."
Heller, M. (2012). In The Wealth of the Commons, p.69-70.


----- On the hidden agenda of microcredit loans -----
"The privatization (of land, water and other things) and the commercialization of commons (for example, air or genes), which restricts access or even eliminates them for many people, are actually considered serious soutions for global problems such as hunger and climate change. ... According to the World Trade Organization (WTO), the overall goal of globalized development policy lies in integrating as many areas relevant for daily existence as possible into the monetary and commodity-based economy. One example of this is the internationally promoted expansion of microcredit. The more needs are dealt with via money, the better and more developed a society supposedly is. The profound crisis of the growth-based economy, of which the ecological crises are a part, raises sustantial doubts about this view."
Bennholdt-Thomsen, V.. (2012). In The Wealth of the Commons, p.82.


----- On biotechnology as politics rather than as science -----
"The biggest problem with genetic engineering in agriculture is that it runs completely against the grain of sustainable agriculture. It separates the domain of science from the domain of farming community. It externalizes everything that was internal to the communities and formed the basis of sustainability: seeds, manure, pest control and more than anything, community knowledge of agriculture. Biotechnology in agriculture today stands as the manifestation of corporate power that is shaping the food and farming policies in India. That is the reason why we must see biotechnology less as science and more as politics."
Satheesh, P.V. (2012). In The Wealth of the Commons, p.141.


----- On carbon credits as part of the financialization of the economy -----
"This expansion of (finance) capital represents a new historic type of enclosure: investor-driven appropriations and control of many forests, fisheries, arable land and water resources historically managed by commons ... where markets do not yet exist, natural resources are being converted into commodities so they can be traded. Indeed, new commodities and markets are being created from scratch to satisfy the demands by financial markets for new, high-return investments. A very good example of this kind ... is the carbon permits of such rights. Carbon-trading rights are also generated by companies through the implementation of projects aimed to reduce emissions in the future and thus to offset real emissions that the same companies are generating today. A carbon credit or certificate is in itself a derivative contract, given that its value is based on the estimated future price of abating carbon emissions. Therefore holding or buying a carbon credit is in itself a bet about the future"
Tricario, A. (2012). In The Wealth of the Commons, p.147.


----- On the future financialization of water -----
"In July 2011 the chief economist of Citigroup, Willem Buiter, stated in one of the company's regular thematic research briefings: "I expect to see a globally integrated market for fresh water within 25 to 30 years. Once the spot markets for water are integrated, futures markets and other derivate water-based financial instruments ... will follow. There will be different grades and types of fresh water, just the way we have light sweet and heavy sour crude oil today. Water as an asset class will, in my view, become eventually the single most important physical-commodity based asset class, dwarfing oil, copper, agricultural commodities and precious metals." This vision goes far beyond the current privatization of water services and utilities ... In short, water itself would become a financial asset, so that holding a physical quantity of water would generate a financial rent."
Tricario, A. (2012). In The Wealth of the Commons, p.152.


----- On threats to the commons -----
"A commons such as Wikipedia is easily subject to different forms of "pollution," such as dishonest articles, propaganda and distortions. This demands constant attention and considerable energy from the Wikipedia community to take note of, monitor, and correct such cases of pollution; it is energy drawn away from the capacity to construct an even more complete encyclopedia. Similarly, the commons of world scientific research may also be contaminated by fraud, which erodes coletive confidence in the research while boosting the careers of deceitful researchers."
Le Crosnier, H. (2012). In The Wealth of the Commons, p.178.


----- On free trade agreements as detrimental to the commons -----
"The commons starts from the idea that knowledge (and the right to share and reproduce knowledge) is a basic human right that integrates three specific factors - common pool resources, a community of users organized around them and that community's consensus-based rules and standards. It is clear that free trade agreements are hostile to this structure of governance and resource management. By imposing private intellectual property rights on collective knowledge and resources such as seeds and plant varieties, FTAs [Free Trade Agreements] are in effect modern tools for enclosing the commons."
Busaniche, B. (2012). In The Wealth of the Commons, p.208.


----- On patents as weapons of mass litigation -----
"Patents represent a social contract about innovation - the public, via government, grants limited-term monopolies to entrepreneurs as a way to encourage innovation, and the public reaps new knowledge and market access to new technologies. This social contract to "promote science and the useful arts" has in fact done little to achieve that goal ... At best, patents have been a means to manage market scarcity and thereby profits. As a practical matter, they have been more useful as litigation weapons or tokens of individual achievement."
Martin, D. (2012). In The Wealth of the Commons, p.314.


----- On systemic flaws of the current patent regime -----
"For the past thirty years, economists have unsuccessfully attempted to establish a direct correlation between the deployment of proprietary rights and economic (to say nothing of social) good. This effort has been confounded by two alarming and unaddressed problems. First, modern patent offices have categorically denied any responsibility for the economic consequences of the patents they grant - while relying on business models (fees and personal compensation) that reward patent examiners for issuing more patents. When WIPO, Denmark, and others investigated what happened when patent offices take quality and market consequences into consideration, they found that fewer patents are issued. However, fee income also drops, and so such reforms of the patenting process are quickly shelved. A second problem has been the sheer proliferation of patents. Since 1980, when the US and Japan launched the modern innovation "cold war," companies have sought new patents as weapons for negotiations over market control. Even a dubious patent can be used as a bargaining chit in litigation and other disputes." 
Martin, D. (2012). In The Wealth of the Commons, p.314.


----- On claiming patents to block innovation and competitors -----
"At least since 1980, companies have used patents ... to block commercial access to and market use of innovations. It is no accident that some of the largest patent estates were filed by companies who had the most market share to lose. Oil companies filed and held thousands of environmentally desirable patents in fields ranging from solar and wind power to hydrogen and hybrid propulsion. Paint companies filed and held thousands of patents on alternative surface coating techniques only to continue using toxic metals in industrial production  Pharmaceutical companies and their agrochemical allies filed and held thousands of patents on treatments and cures for disease and on land renewal technologies, ensuring that no one else could use these options. Defensive patents - representing an estimated 80 percent of all filings by industrialized nations - are not artefacts of innovation but pawns used to minimize risks during litigation."
Martin, D. (2012). In The Wealth of the Commons, p.315.


----- On claiming new patents for inventions that were already patented 40 years ago -----
"A search of the database reveals that one in three patents registered today as energy-saving technology duplicates inventions that were first developed following the oil crisis of the 1970s, and so can be freely used. A great many patents are not novel at all. They simply duplicate innovations that were made decades ago. But patent applications often disguise this fact by using colorful and complicated language  Overworked government patent examiners struggling with limited resources and seeking to avoid legal hassles often grant new patents that are not truly warranted  The global Innovation Commons helps reveal and confirm the patent-free status of important technologies."
Martin, D. (2012). In The Wealth of the Commons, p.317.


----- On commons as existing beyond markets and states -----
"For a long time, many researchers and policymakers believed that the only way to avoid [the tragedy of the commons] was to privatize the commons or place them under government control. But [Elinor] Ostrom wasn't convinced. She had a fairly radical idea that broke with conventional wisdom: the survival of communities' resources does not depend upon the state to make laws and impose punishment, nor does it depend on assigning a dollar value to every fish, chunk of grass, or drop of water. Rather, people, when they come together, can share understandings and manage their resources by enforcing norms and rules of their own design! The unconventional idea in many quarters was that people could cooperate "beyond markets and states.""
Conway, R. (2012). In The Wealth of the Commons, p.362.






----- On knowledge as a commons -----
"For us, the analysis of knowledge as a commons has its roots in the broad, interdisciplinary study of shared natural resources, such as water resources, forests, fisheries, and wildlife. Commons is a general term that refers to a resource shared by a group of people. In a commons, the resource can be small and serve a tiny group (the family refrigerator), it can be community-level (sidewalks, playgrounds, libraries, and so on), or it can extend to international and global levels (deep ses, the atmosphere, the Internet, and scientific knowledge). The commons can be well bounded (a community park or library); transboundary (the Danube River, migrating wildlife, the Internet; or without clear boundries (knowledge, the ozone layer."
Ostrom, E., & Hess, C. (2007)In Understanding knowledge as a commons, p.4.


----- On natural-resource vs human-made commons -----
"While the bulk of commons research has been aimed at natural-resource commons, particularly forests and land, fisheries, and water resources, attention to human-made resources has increased dramatically since 1995. Whether the focus is traditional or new, however, the essential questions for any commons analysis are inevitably about equity, efficiency, and sustainability."
Ostrom, E., & Hess, C. (2007)In Understanding knowledge as a commons, p.6.


----- On the development of the global commons -----
"Most of the problems and dilemmas discussed in this book have arisen since the invention of new digital technologies. The introduction of new technologies can play a huge role in the robustness or vulnerability of a commons. New technologies can enable the capture of what were once free and open public goods. This has been the case with the development of most "global commons," such as the deep seas, the atmosphere, the electromagnetic spectrum, and space, for example. This ability to capture the previously uncapturable creates a fundamental change in the nature of the resource, with the resource being converted from a nonrivalrous, nonexclusionarly public good into a common-pool resource that needs to be managed, monitored, and protected, to ensure sustainability and preseration."
Ostrom, E., & Hess, C. (2007)In Understanding knowledge as a commons, p.10.


----- On digital information becoming both more *and* less accessible -----
"The rapidly expanding world of distributed digital information has infite possibilities as well as incalculable threats and pitfalls. The parallel, yet contradictory trends, where, on the one hand, there is unprecedented access to information through the Internet but where, on the other [hand], there are ever-greater restrictions on access through intellectual property legislation, overpatenting, licensing, overpricing, withdrawal, and lack of preservation, indicate the deep and perplexing characteristics of this resource."
Ostrom, E., & Hess, C. (2007)In Understanding knowledge as a commons, p.14.


----- On the differences and similarities between natural-resource and digital commons -----
"there are significant differences between natural-resource commons like land, which are depletable and "rivalrous" (many people wish to use a resource to the exclusion of others), and commons that manage nondepletable, non-rivalrous resources such as information and creative works. What makes the term *commons* useful, nonetheless, is its ability to help us identify problems that affect both tyrpes of commons (e.g., congestion, overharvesting, pollution, inequities, other degradation) and to propose effective alternatives (e.g., social rules, appropriate property rights, and management structures). ... Each commons has distinctive dynamics based on its participants, history, cultural values, the nature of the resource, and so forth. Still, there are some recurring themes evident in different commons."
Bollier, D. (2007)In Understanding knowledge as a commons, p.28.


----- On the the early adopters of the term "commons" -----
"Environmentalists and conservationists fighting a relentless expansion of market activity have been among the most enthusiastic "early adopters" of commons language. Books such as The Global Commons: An Introduction by Susan J. Buck, Whose Common Future? Reclaiming the Commons by The Ecologist magazine, and Who Owns the Sky? Our Common Assets and the Future of Capitalism by Peter Barnes have helped popularize the idea that certain shared natural resources should be regarded as commons and managed accordingly. The atmosphere, oceans, fisheries, groundwater and other freshwater supplies, wilderness and local open spaces, and beaches are all increasingly regarded as commons - resources that everyone has a moral if not legal interest in, and that should be managed for the benefit of all."
Bollier, D. (2007)In Understanding knowledge as a commons, p.31-32.


----- On erecting enclosures to stop knowledge from spreading in an age of digital information -----
"Instead of fulfilling the promises of the information age, large portions of online content have come under government-imposed restrictions or corporate controls like technological protection measures, licensing, and other digital-rights management techniques, all of which impede access to information and limit its use. As a result, much online content is now restricted, wrapped, and packaged - treated as secret or private rather than public or common property. Like medieval times when enclosure of agricultural pasturelands occurred both piecemeal and by general legislative action, no single decision or act is causing today's enclosure of the commons of the mind. Some of the enclosures of the knowledge commons have been rapid, others gradual ... No matter what the reason, a cumulative series of public and private-sector policies have resulted in less access to the knowledge essential to "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.""
Kranich, N. (2007)In Understanding knowledge as a commons, p.86-87.


----- On the broken model of for-profit academic publishing -----
"By the early 1990s, mergers of academic journal publishers left only a few international conglomerates in control, straining already tight higher education budgets by charging as much as $20,000 for subscriptions to journals like *Nuclear Physics*, *Brain Research*, and *Tetrahedron Letters*, while returning profits as high as 40 percent. According to a study ... these commercial press charges differed remarkably from the prices charged by nonprofits, typically differing by six times the average per-page price for journals published in the same field. Dependence on the privat sector for scholarly journals essentially compels universities to finance research, give it away to for-profit publishers for free, and then buy it back at astronomical prices."
Kranich, N. (2007)In Understanding knowledge as a commons, p.88.



----- On populism vs progressivism -----
"the question I describe here is fundamental to the division between the progressive and the populist impulses in American politics. The progressive notes the dangers of collective irrationality, of lack of understanding ... He puts faith in the expertise of technocratic specialists working for the public interest, but isolated from public pressure and hubbub. The populist, by contrast, is skeptical of claims that restrict knowledge, decision making, or power to an elite group. He sees the experts as being subject to their own versions of narrowness and prejudice"
Boyle, J. (2007)In Understanding knowledge as a commons, p.132.


----- On preserving the knowledge commons -----
"To have its beneficial effects, a published work needs to be available to the broadest possible audience both in the present and over time. However, access is not equivalent to preservation. The free or open access to common-pool resources may encourage use by many today, but it does not necessarily encourage any specific individual or institution to preserve them for future use. Insuring against the loss of electronically published works is a common-pool resource problem that requires special attention.
Waters, D. (2007)In Understanding knowledge as a commons.


----- On researchers' motivation to write articles -----
"The focus on the OA [open access] movement is on a special category of content that does *not* earn royalties for its creators: peer-reviewed research articles and their preprints. Ever since the first scientific journals were founded in 1665 in London and Paris, journals have not paid authors for articles. What incentive do authors have to publish without payment? If there were royalty-paying journals, then authors would very likely steer their work toward them. So part of the answer is that royalty-free journals are the only game in town. ... The more important part of the answer ... is that authors want their work to be noticed, read, taken up, built upon, applied, used, and cited. They also want the journal's time stamp in order to establish priority over other scientists working on the same problem. If they work at a university, this way of advancing knowledge will also advance their careers. These intangible rewards (made nearly tangible in tenure and promotion) compensate scholars for relinquishing royalties on their journal articles. It explains why they are not merely willing, but eager, to submit their articles to journals that do not pay for them, and even to journals with the temerity to ask for ownership or copyright as well".
Suber, P. (2007)In Understanding knowledge as a commons, p.174-175.


----- On the benefits of *not* encouraging scholars to be popular -----
"Author donation is closely connected to academic freedom. Scholars can *afford* to donate their journal articles because they are paid salaries by universities. Their salaries free them from the market, so they can write journal articles without considering what would "sell" or what would appeal to the widest audience. This frees them to be controversial, or to defend unpopular ideas, a key component of academic freedom. It also frees them to be microspecialized, or to defend ideas of interest to only a few people in the world. The same insulation frees some scholars to be obscure, and it frees others, who did not quite get the point, to be faddish and market-driven. But because the same insulation from the market makes two important freedoms possible - open access and academic freedom - we have good reason to resist any development that would remove this insulation and make scholars' income ... depend on the popularity of their ideas."
Suber, P. (2007)In Understanding knowledge as a commons, p.175.


----- On the tragedy of the e-mail commons -----
"I do not want to give the impression that all digital and nonrivalrous commons inherently resist tragedies of depletion. For example, I believe that spam triggers a tragic depletion in the usefulness of e-mail. If the worldwide network of e-mail users is a commons that we are all free to graze at will, then spammers are the overgrazers that are starting to spoil it for the rest. In the case of real grazing land, the overgrazers must be a significant fraction of the common users. But in the case of e-mail, spammers are a tiny minority. Moreover, they only succeed in ruining the e-mail experience for others because a tiny minority of their recipients buy their products. Insofar as spammers are to blame, the cause is greed. Insofar as their customers are to blame, the cause is credulity. The resulting tragedy of the e-mail commons does not deplete the content, but it does deplete the usefulness of the medium."
Suber, P. (2007)In Understanding knowledge as a commons, p.204.


----- On trust and political engagement -----
"Young Americans are less likely to develop civic identities today than in the past. Many ingredients of a civic identity are difficult to measure or have not been followed consistently over long spans of time. However, the percentage of young people who say the follow public affairs dropped from 24 percent in 1966 to just 5 percent in 2000. ... Wendy Rahn and John Transue explain the erosion of young people's social trust as a result of "rapid rise of materialistic value orientations that occurred among American youth in the 1970s and 1980s." Eric Uslaner explains trust as a function of optimism. People who believe that the world will get better (that there will be more public goods for all) are willing to trust others and cooperate. People who believe that the pie is shrinking adopt a zero-sum, "me-first" approach. Whatever the cause, a decline in trust spells danger for all forms of commons."
Levine, P. (2007)In Understanding knowledge as a commons, p.256.


----- On where human welfare comes from -----
"At bottom, both the Left and the Right believe that all things of value are created either by companies and entrepreneurs or else by governments. They assume that markets and states produce a pool of goods that citizens fight over. This struggle is what we conventionally call "politics." It is a zero-sum game, hence largely unpleasant. In contrast, the public-work approach suggests that citizens can make new goods - expand the pie - by cooperating. Unfortunately, opportunities for ordinary citizens to do public work have shrunk over the last century. This is partly because professionals and experts have taken over many traditional duties of citizens, from managing towns to setting educational policy to lobbying. And it is partly because many civic functions have been privatized. For example, Americans often pay companies to provide neighborhood security or to watch their small children. All that is left for citizens to do is to complain, vote, and volunteer.""
Levine, P. (2007)In Understanding knowledge as a commons, p.266-267.


----- On the resource commons vs digital commons -----
"[Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FOSS) has] resulted in a new form of Internet-based collaboration that represents a form of "commons", but one that differs slightly from the environmental commons that most readers are familiar with. In FOSS commons, groups of people act collectively to produce a public good (the software), rather than overappropriate the resource. In other words, the challenge in FOSS commons is how to achieve collective action to create and maintain a commons or public good rather than the issue of protecting an existing commons from destruction"
Schweik, C. (2007)In Understanding knowledge as a commons, p.279.
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söndag 29 januari 2017

FoodCHI workshop position paper

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I just submitted a position paper to a workshop at the upcoming (May 2017) CHI conference, "Designing Sustainable Food Systems" - also known as FoodCHI. Here's the short description of the workshop:

"The FoodCHI workshop will ... discuss ... how we can create sustainable food systems, and how we may design technologies for a sustainable food system. There are three goals for this workshop:

- Exploring the roles and implications of information technologies on and in a sustainable food system.
- Designing techniques and adapting design paradigms to specific components of a sustainable food system.
- Reflecting on the landscape of design work and core opportunities for design within a sustainable food system."


The (really really short) position paper we submitted was written by me, master's student Sofie Nyström and my colleague Cecilia Katzeff and the title of the paper is "Waste reduction in the Sustainable Grocery Store". The position paper builds on Sofie's upcoming master's thesis that she will work on during this coming term, but she is already a seasoned researcher who has worked in other research projects with similar themes at The Interactive Institute Swedish ICT (now called RISE Interactive).

The paper builds on our research project "Sustainable Practices and Data: Opportunities for Change" (SPOC) about sustainability, food, lifestyles, behavior/practices (social practice theory), ICT and (critical) design. Despite the fact that I have worked in this project for more than two years by now, I haven't actually written a blog post about it yet on the blog. Here's the super short presentation of (parts of) the project from the position paper:

"The SPOC project is housed at the Center for Sustainable Communications at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. The most active project partners are the City of Stockholm and one of the largest grocery chains in Sweden with stores all around the country. The project focuses on the parts of the food chain that concerns the store, the household and waste (from stores and households). In this position paper we focus on the grocery store and more specifically on the challenge of reducing waste in/from the store. The paper is based on ongoing work in the part of the larger project that works with the concept “The sustainable store”."

As it so happens, I know almost all the organizers of the workshop and I would extremely surprised if our submission was not accepted to the workshop.

fredag 27 januari 2017

Our Ph.D. course ended ("ICT and Sustainability")

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I wrote a blog post at the end of June where I announced mine and Elina's then-upcoming ph.d. course DM3606 ICT and Sustainability. The course was held during the autumn term (September-December) and we had our final session this past week. The examination consisted of writing a course paper and we spent the final session presenting and discussing these papers.

Back in June, when we announced the course, we thought a lot of (perhaps reluctant) computer science ph.d.'s would sign up for the course not necessarily because they wanted to but because they kind of have to, but that message hadn't reached those students yet. Also, the actual call got stuck and we only found out after the summer (mid-August) that the invitation had in fact not been distributed before the summer (June). That meant that we were unsure if we would be able to give the course when it was supposed to start (August 25) but we did in the end get enough students together. These are the ph.d. students who took our course:

- Hanna Hasselqvist (KTH, School of Computer Science and Communication)
- Sebastian Rauh (KTH, School of Computer Science and Communication)
- Marius Koller (KTH, School of Computer Science and Communication)
- Fang Li (visiting researcher at KTH, School of Computer Science and Communication)
- Miriam Rivera Börjesson (KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment)
- Mia Hesselgren (KTH, School of Industrial Engineering & Management)
- Sofia Bryntse (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Energy and Technology)
- Per Fors (Uppsala University, Department of Engineering Sciences)

Most course participants were already focusing on (ICT and) sustainability in their research and were thus highly motivated (and knowledgable). We met every second week during the autumn and the three-hour course sessions treated these nine topics:

- Course introduction
- Sustainability 101
- ICT and Sustainability - 1st order effects
- ICT and Sustainability - 2nd and 3rd order effects
- Sustainable Interaction Design and Sustainable Human-Computer Interaction
- Social sustainability and ICT4D
- Limits and Collapse informatics
- Sustainability and Software Engineering
- The future

We all think the course structure worked fine. We will keep most of it and might only upgrade the readings if we give the course again a year or two from now. I guess we could think of this course as a "test run" for future courses but will have to take into account that the audience might be slightly different (less invested in sustainability) next time we give the course. One takeaway lesson was that it worked surprisingly well to have two (for the most part) remote participants (who live in Germany). It worked even better those times we sat in the in the video-conference room and had access to specialized software and an excellent microphone and speakers. It almost felt like the remote participants were present and one person even participated once while sitting traveling by train! This opens up the possibility of inviting some of the paper authors to join the course for half an hour when we discuss their papers (which is also easier if they live in Europe/in same time zone).

Reading the ph.d. students' course papers, these were the most popular papers we read during the autumn:

Background knowledge:
- Steffen, W., Richardson, K., Rockström, J., Cornell, S.E., Fetzer, I., Bennett, E.M., Biggs, R., Carpenter, S.R., de Vries, W., de Wit, C.A., Folke, C., Gerten, D., Heinke, J., Mace, G.M., Persson, L.M., Ramanathan, V., Reyers, B. and Sörlin, S. (2015). Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet. Science, 347(6223), 1259855.

- Raworth, K. (2012). A safe and just space for humanity: can we live within the doughnut. Oxfam Policy and Practice: Climate Change and Resilience, 8(1), 1-26.

- Cramer, B. W. (2012). Man’s need or man’s greed: The human rights ramifications of green ICTs. Telematics and Informatics, 29(4), 337-347.


Getting down and dirty:
- Robinson, J. (2004). Squaring the circle? Some thoughts on the idea of sustainable development. Ecological economics, 48(4), 369-384.

- Hilty, L. M. (2012). Why energy efficiency is not sufficient-some remarks on «Green by IT». In EnviroInfo (pp. 13-20).
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onsdag 25 januari 2017

Our useless paper was accepted (paper)

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Paying real money to buy virtual loot boxes inside a computer game.

I wrote a blog post three months ago about a proposed paper (abstract) that me and my colleague Björn Hedin submitted to the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ACSA) 2017 Workshop “Unnecessary, Unwanted and Uncalled-for: A Workshop on Uselessness”. The abstract was accepted back then and me and Björn spent a few sessions in November-December hashing out the core ideas of the paper and the basic flow of the argument. It was in fact pure joy to spend time brainstorming these ideas and the results that came out of this process was very unexpected and, frankly, slightly disturbing. We're not sure what to make of it or even if we have drawn the right conclusions after having followed a train of thoughts to its logical conclusion - so it will be a great paper to discuss at the workshop!

We converted our notes from December into running text that we submitted last week - a 3500-word workshop paper about the sustainability (or not) of computer games called "Useless games for a sustainable world". The paper is really quite nifty but we still only scratched the surface of this topic. I think we had at least twice as many ideas as fit the paper. The paper discusses computer games as a product and the activity of playing computer games in relation to other activities’ carbon intensity (footprint) per 100 Euros, as well as different activities’ carbon intensity per hour. I initially touched upon these ideas in a blog post I wrote three years ago, "On the monetary intensity of media consumption".

I will present the paper in Amsterdam at the end of March and very much look forward to this workshop as it is way out of the ordinary for me. The call for papers was one of the best I've ever seen but I have no idea whatsoever about what other papers will be presented at the workshop. Last time I attended a cultural studies event (a small Swedish conference) was three and a half years ago and I unfortunately have to say I was underwhelmed by the topics and the papers presented there (with some notable exceptions), but, I have high hopes for this workshop. Me and Björn feel we are on to something but we currently don't yet have any specific plans for what to do to develop the paper further. Perhaps we will chop it up, cannibalize it and transfer the reasoning to other papers we will write. Anyway, here's a small teaser from the set-up of our paper:


Useless games for a sustainable world

Daniel Pargman​ & Björn Hedin

"Nothing captures the attention of a child better and more thoroughly than a computer game, be it Candy Crush Soda Saga, Pokémon Go, Battlefield 1 or The Witcher 3. […] We the authors of this paper can as fathers feel unease at our childrens’ willingness to spend a weekend indoors with gaming platforms of various kinds as their closest company. We can feel they are “wasting their youth” on “useless activities” [but what we here ask is] what the effects of computer games are in terms of sustainability. More specifically, what are the effects of computer games in terms of CO2 emissions? For instance, If we spend money (and time) on playing computer games, does that make computer games good or bad (i.e. useful or useless) from a sustainability point of view?
[...]
Our conclusion [this far] is thus that activities that generate lower-than-average CO2 emissions per 100 Euros are good and if activities generate significantly lower-than-average CO2 emissions they are even better. Similarly, activities that generate higher-than-average CO2 emissions per 100 Euros are bad and if said activities generate significantly higher-than-average CO2 emissions they are even worse. [...] If we at this point generalize brutally, we could say that all travel (by car, plane or any other mode of transportation that utilizes an internal combustion engine) is very bad, and that almost every other type of consumption represent (comparatively) good ways of spending money - despite large differences within this “other” category. At this point we thus conclude that:

  • one of, if not the worst way of spending money, is to use it for travel.
  • all other ways of spending money is better, but, digging down, there are of course better and worse types of non-travel activities. 
...[so] Are computer games better or worse than other non-travel activities?"
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söndag 22 januari 2017

Smart home technology for sustainable practices (application)

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I'm part of a group (led by University of Strathclyde) that handed in a EU application two weeks ago. This is a "Marie Curie Innovative Training Networks" application and I took part of another such application two years ago. If granted, the project will run for four years and the application basically applies for money to hire 14 ph.d. students for three years at five universities and three research institutes/research-oriented organisations in five different countries (UK, Denmark, Germany, Sweden and Greece). There are also an additional 11 partner organisations in for the most part the same five countries. Now as well as in the previous application the KTH "node" consists of Cecilia Katzeff and me, but this time around I hardly did any work at all with the application itself. This short description of the application is for the most part taken from the application itself:

The application is called "Smart home technology for sustainable practices" and the main scientific goal is to develop an inter-disciplinary design methodology for maximizing return on smart metering investments and energy efficiency programmes through better understanding of energy consumption in relation to users’ needs. Also, the application stressed that people should not be dominated by available or future technology, but technology should instead be designed to fit into everyday practices at home, in transports and at the work place. Objectives pursuant to this goal are:

  1. Investigating technology for energy sensing and analytics.
  2. Investigating the relationship between smart technologies and energy services through the lens of user practices.
  3. Investigating how social practices are challenged by emerging smart technology.

The applicants together possess multi-disciplinary (engineering, human-computer interaction, and social science) and multi-sector expertise to address energy and climate change problems by shaping technology to our daily life, ensuring the emergence of long-lasting sustainable practices. In doing so, the project will challenge a traditional approach of fitting people to technology, instead acknowledging that socio-technical solutions require approaches that recognise complex interrelations between people, designs, artefacts, and practices.

The main reasons for the slow uptake of smart home technologies (including smart metering) are assumptions made about the user and attempts at designing technology that will change user behaviour. An emphasis on persuasion makes the technology into an instrument and isolates it from everyday life. Contrarily, social practice theory argues that energy is consumed as an often unavoidable part of everyday practices, placing practices at the centre of analysis and asks how they evolve and change over time, and what the implications for energy demand are.

The five participating universities are:
- University of Strathclyde (UK)
- University of East Anglia (UK)
- Aalborg University (DK)
- KTH Royal Institute of Technology (SWE)
- University of Siegen (DE)

The application is again quite voluminous (as these things tend to be), 35 pages of compact text (sometimes with a small font) and together with appendixes breaking the 100-page barrier. We will know if the application is granted sometime before the summer.
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torsdag 19 januari 2017

Sustainable ICT in Practice (course)

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I just came back to work this week after a long vacation and BAM, work started immediately and at full pace. The main thing that happened this past week was that mine and Elina's brand new course, "DM2720 Sustainable ICT in practice" started (Hanna Hasselqvist has also been part of planning the course and her pre-ph.d. experiences as an engineering student at Chalmers and later as a consultant have been very valuable).

This course of course starts right where our previous course (that we taught up until just before Christmas) finished, and the vast majority of students (80+%) who take the new course also just took the previous course. While that course was more theoretical and geared towards discussions, this course is more practical and geared towards current industry practices and "what industry wants" from students who have a competence in media technology/computer science and sustainability.

The main thing that distinguishes the new course from other course I have taught lately (or, actually, forever) is that there are only 17 students taking the course. With the exception of ph.d. courses, I can't recall ever having taught a course with that few master's students. And that's still a lot more that what we expected. Less than a week ago we had no idea how many students would take the course or even if enough students would want to take the course for it to be offered. There was a cut-off number somewhere around 10. We might even have been able to give the course with fewer students (as few as 8 or even 6) this once since this is the first time the course is given. It would have felt strange to haul in guest lecturers for a course with only 7 students though and 17 students is a much better base to build on.

With so few students, the whole ambiance changes. It's very easy to learn everyone's name and the connection between teacher(s) and students becomes very different (much less anonymous) compared to when there are 50 or 70 students taking the course - as has usually been the case for my masters-level courses. This in fact directly relates to two blog posts I wrote the better part of five years ago (in August 2012); "Bridging the distance between me and my students" and "De-anonymizing students".

Another huge difference is the fact that most of the 60+ students who took the previous sustainability course did so due to the fact that it's compulsory for some students and recommended for others, while choosing the new course is a 100% voluntary and active choice. That means the average student taking this course is a lot more interested (and knowledgable) in the subject - ICT/Media Technology & Sustainability - than the average student who took the previous course. One week into the course it really does feel like a privilege to give this course to these students.

The course itself is shaped around a project task that our students will work with in groups of 3-4 students throughout the course. The lectures and the literature chosen is based on what we think would be useful for the students to hear and read so as to support their projects. The project task itself forces the students to get in touch with companies working with ICT/Media Technology & Sustainability and we very much look forward to hear the students present the results of their investigations at the end of the course.
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söndag 15 januari 2017

Harnessing our energy slaves (paper)

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My two previous blog posts have treated two abstracts (proposed articles) to a special issue on "Energy and the Future" in the journal Energy Research & Social Science and this blog post treats the third and last abstract I submitted, this time together with my colleague Ambjörn Naeve.

This abstract is again directed towards the special issue theme "Ways of thinking about the future of energy" and I think it's a pretty certain bet that not all three of these proposed articles will be invited to the special issue... I would be happy if one is accepted and I would be delighted but overworked if two are accepted (luckily I'm the second rather than the first author of all three proposals)... For a little more information about the special issue (and the five themes), see the previous blog post.

The background to this blog post is to some extend many long free-ranging discussions between me and Ambjörn about energy and other topics over the years, but this is our first attempt at actually writing something together. We have recently started to discussed the twin ideas of "Homo Colossus" and of "Energy Slaves" and the original plan was to write a paper that was to be based on us examining and digging deep down into those metaphor (including comparisons, calculations and graphs), but with Ambjörn as the first author, the proposed paper took a slightly different turn. Here's the result of that process:

Harnessing the work ability of energy slaves


This paper aims to disentangle the confusion between the energy of a system and its capacity/ability to perform work. It makes consistent use of the terminology of thermodynamics, which separates between the concepts energy and exergy. ’Energy’ denotes an invariant quantity of a closed system, which, when the individual parts of the system interact with each other, redistributes itself among different forms with decreased total work ability. ’Exergy’ denotes the latent ability of a system to perform work on its surroundings. The degradation of the work ability of energy, i.e., the degradation of its exergy, is a fundamentally important law of nature. In fact, it is the only law (on the macroscopic level) which is sensitive to the direction of time.

We illustrate our argument by way of Buckminster Fuller’s concept of energy slaves. From a thermodynamical perspective they ought to be called exergy slaves since they (by definition) deliver work at the same rate as (average) human beings. An ”energy slave” is defined, e.g., by Wikipedia as "that quantity of energy (ability to do work) which, when used to construct and drive non-human infrastructure replaces a unit of human labor (actual work)."

This unfortunate identification between ‘energy’ and ‘work’ restricts the concept of energy to cover only its prime quality forms (such as mechanical energy or electrical energy), which are completely convertible into work, and it excludes all other (non-prime-quality) forms of energy, such as e.g., chemical energy and heat energy, which are only partially convertible into work.

We argue that basing the future energy discourse on thermodynamics can help dispel present confusion and increase the conceptual quality of the discourse. Specifically, this perspective can help to better locate effective leverage points when it comes to harnessing the latent work ability of a given energy flow. For example, when we heat our living rooms with electricity, we turn each kilowatt hour of electrical input energy into a kilowatt hour of ”room-temperature-heat” output energy, and the latter has less than 7% of the work ability of the former. Hence, we have thrown away more than 93% of the work ability of the energy - work ability that is costly to provide and that can never be regained.

From the thermodynamical perspective, each untapped temperature difference in a process is an untapped source of work. The present confusion prevents the discovery of untapped work resources, especially those that are based on heat energy. In fact, being able to thermodynamically estimate the exergy of heat energy is crucial in order to discover the heat-based work that is wasted in such untapped temperature differences. This is especially true for industrial processes, and by redesigning their energy flows, many of them could operate from the same flow, thereby reducing their untapped work ability. Under the name of energy conservation such activities do take place today, but we argue they must be greatly increased in order to meet the strategic demands of better managing scarce energy resources in the future.
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