fredag 30 maj 2014

I visited San Francisco and met up with Richard Heinberg!

I met Richard Heinberg this week, we had an extended two-hour lunch together at an Indian restaurant in Santa Rosa (near his work at the Post-Carbon Institute as well as his home). Perhaps you don't know who Richard Heinberg is? Richard's an author, educator and lecturer and while not an academic/researchers, he does really good research for his books and his texts are always very pedagogical too. I use a few of his texts in my master's level course on Sustainability and ICT and my students very much like (and are persuaded by) these texts. Richard wrote one of the first books ever about peak oil back in 2003, "The party's over", and has has since written no less than seven more books exclusively about peak oil and energy-related topics. I've read four of his books as well as a book he edited together with Daniel Lerch:

- "The party's over: Oil, war, and the fate of industrialised societies" (2003)
- "Powerdown: Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World (2005)
- "The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century’s Sustainability Crises" (edited by Richard Heinberg & Daniel Lerch, 2010)
- "Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines" (2007)
- "The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality" (2011)

My original suggestion when I got in touch with Richard was that I should give a talk at the Post-Carbon Institute but that didn't happen since the timing apparently was not the best (lots of people were away). Lunch with (only) Richard Heinberg was the fallback option, but perhaps next time...

One of the goals with my lunch meeting was to get to know Richard better and learn some more about his opinions and his projects, but that didn't really happen. Richard was really interested in the work I and others do and so I ended up for the most part talking and with him listening. The basic question he wanted answered was "will we have the Internet [e.g. an infrastructure for computing and communication] also if/when societies become less affluent [in the wake of peak oil/peak economy]?". This is a hard question to answer, but preparing for just such a future is indeed the goal that me and colleagues of mine (not the least at UCI/RiSCIT) are working towards.

Beyond that million-dollar question, Richard was also interested in the lay of the land in the area of computing + sustainability (which I told him about in some detail) and we also talked about at least three different budding projects that I am involved in. It's still early days in all three of them so I have as of yet not even published a blog post here about any of these projects (but read below about one of them and stay tuned... :-)   Let's just say that Richard was interested in contributing to one of these projects!

Richard also told me he had just sent away the manuscript for his latest book - a book of essays. He told me the name and I observed the title "fit" together with "Powerdown" but I can't for the life of me remember what that title was (could it have been "Aftershock?")...

One of the things I told Richard about was my collaboration with Barath Raghanvan at UC Berkely.  Richard and Barath have been in touch by mail but they have never met (despite being no more than one hour away from each other). While lunch with Richard Heinberg was nice, the full day of working together with Barath the day before was necessary for our cooperation to progress. My previous blog post concerned my family's visit to the San Francisco Exploratorium, but when my family (+ my brother who is visiting) drove home to Irvine by car (an 8-hour trip), I stayed for two extra days in SF. Wednesday was reserved for lunch with Richard Heinberg (two hours of lunch + the three hour of driving back and forth to Santa Rosa ate up the major part of the day). The previous day, Tuesday, was reserved for me and Barath rolling up our sleeves so as to brainstorm and work together!

I wrote about the paper me and Barath submitted to the NordiCHI conference on the blog (we'll soon get to know if it was accepted), and the foci of our eight hours spent together working were three-fold:
- Our next, "companion" paper that we will submit to the CHI conference (deadline September 22). As with the NordiCHI paper, I will be the first author (i.e. I will be in charge of the paper and take on most of the responsibilities of getting it written).
- A paper that we will submit to an ICTD conference. ICTD stands for "information and communication technologies for development", i.e. for using ICT to further "socioeconomic development, international development and human rights. The theory behind this is that more and better information and communication furthers the development of a society" (Wikipedia). The two main ICTD conferences are the ACM DEV conference (cfpdeadline August 1) and the ICT4D conference (cpfdeadline October 13). We have not made the final decision as to which of these two conferences we will aim for although we might be hard pressed to meet the Aug 1 deadline. Barath will be the first author of for this paper.
- Finally we also planning for a conference call this coming week where we will discuss/start to plan a conference about "collapse informatics". It might be that "collapse" is a term that is too loaded and so we decided that the code name for the conference (at least for now) is ACM LIMITS. This proposed conference was in fact one of the three "mysterious" topics that I discussed with Richard Heinberg the following day (see above).

Despite having written a paper together, the eight-hour marathon meeting with Barath was in fact only the second time we met physically - although we of course have "met" electronically and by phone many times when we wrote our paper together earlier this spring. It's interesting to observe that so much can be accomplished nowadays in terms of cooperation without being physically co-located. Still, meeting face-to-face is, I would say, the foundation for successfully cooperating at a distance and it was really nice to meet Barath again after having met him the first time only when he visited UCI a few months ago!

Stay tuned for further updates on mine and Baraths projects! I expect that at least a couple of the 2014 blog posts here will treat stuff that comes out of my cooperation with him.

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