torsdag 21 juni 2012


End of the term. Time for a follow-up of some of this spring's projects - or at least the ones that I have written about on the blog.

I went to the Center for Sustainable Communications' (CESC's) workshop and thought that it was a kick-off for generating ideas for new projects for phase three (2012-2015) of the center's 10-year life span. After the workshop nothing much happened for some weeks and then, in the beginning of February, I got an e-mail that thanked all the workshop participants for the "great contributions". After some back-and-forth mail conversation I realized that I, and everyone else who wasn't already in the loop, had little to say, and little to contribute to the project-generation process and, by extension, little to contribute to the research projects that would run in phase three, and to the center in general. That was a bummer (that was an understatement). Everyone is "welcome to participate in CESC activities" up to but (for the most part) excluding participating in formulating and participating in research projects during the next three (or perhaps five - who knows) years. That would not be strange but for the fact that this center is actually hosted by my school (Computer Science and Communication) - even though few researchers and ph.d. students from my school are actually involved in CESC activities. Strange.

I handed in no less than two small-ish applications for internal pedagogical means (KTH/School of Computer Science and Communication). One project was granted money ("Supporting students' studying habits in the age of procrastination). Me and my colleague Björn Hedin can work with this project 80 hours each during the next academic year and I will thus come back to this topic later on the blog. But the brunt of the work will be done next spring as both me and Björn have most of our courses happen during the autumn.

The other application ("Better project courses") was neither granted nor rejected, but I was rather asked to think through and rework the application (it was on the "maybe" list for getting a grant). After thinking about it I decided not to. It all of a sudden felt like a very bureaucratic process, and like it furthermore required a lot of work for what in the end is really very little money. What's the point of spending a whole day re-writing an application where I only ask for money for 10 days worth of work? And furthermore, I strongly suspected that I had promised too much in terms of results for a pittance of money/time. Since I had already been granted money for one project I also felt it would be difficult to keep two such small projects in the air at the same time and deliver according to the promises.

I handed in no less than two applications to Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, but after having waited for two months, I found out that both were rejected. That is ok, the competition was really tough (less than 12% of the 899 applications went on to the second round and only half of those applications end up with grants (i.e. one in 17). What I don't like though is that there was no feedback whatsoever beyond the nugget of information that related the fact that the application had in fact been rejected. After having put so much time and energy (unpaid of course) into writing these applications, I do have to say that I find it disheartening and nothing less than disrespectful to not even get some feedback in the form of a sentence of a paragraph of text.

I went to a workshop, "Beyond sports vs games" to discuss the material I have collected on programming competitions. I feel really bad about the fact that I haven't had time to look at and analyze the material (interviews) that I collected in the beginning of the year... :-(

I sent an abstract, "Beyond web 2.0: Post-collapse computing" to the Internet 13.0 conference. I was quite surprised when it was rejected. Especially as the two reviewers gave it 73 and 70 out of 100. The abstract was evaluated based on content (25%), significance (20%), presentation (20%) and recommendation (35%) and both reviewers gave me sixes (twice), sevens (thrice) and eights (thrice) and it was still rejected. WTF!? Interesting process though, with the weights and a resulting numeric value between 1 and 100. I sent a reworked version of the abstract to another conference three weeks ago (The 3rd International conference on degrowth, ecological sustainability and social equity). Lets see how it fares there.

I wrote about our upcoming course on "Sustainability and Media Technology" and expect to come back to that topic (probably several times) when the autumn term starts. The course itself starts on Tuesday August 28.

I handed in two abstracts (based on the RJ application above) to the workshop "Articulating alternatives". Both were rejected. Again, WTF!? "We have received a large volume of abstracts of a very high quality and [...] we regret to information you that on this occasion your proposal has not been selected". Perhaps I should have been a little more candid in my blog post about the workshop. I criticized some aspects of the workshop call and could have been more diplomatic ("The call could easily have been cut down by a third [as it] partly repeats or states similar or overlapping concepts and ideas several times and/or in different places"). I know for a fact that the organizers read the blog post before they made their decision (quite some traffic from Britain the very day before I got the rejection) and I hope that didn't play into their decision...? Something to think about for next time though...

I also handed in two more applications, but haven't heard anything about them yet. One will get back to me before the end of the month, while the other will take a few more months before they make their decision.

I've met my career coach only twice this far. There could have been time to meet for a third time before the summer, but that didn't happen both because of me and because of him. We have both been slow at different times. I look forward to continuing/finishing the program during the autumn.

It felt like May just happened, so there isn't that much to follow up yet.

Have a nice summer!


söndag 17 juni 2012

Books I've read lately

"Books I've read recently" is a recurring topic and here is the previous blog post (same topic, different books). I'm finally starting to catch up with writing about the books I've read recently - as apart from books I read "some time ago". I read the book below in February and March. All three books below are about sustainability and all three are edited books with collections of texts.  

Heinberg and Lerch's "The post carbon reader: Managing the 21st century's sustainability crises" (2010) is published by the Post Carbon Institute, an American think-tank and non-profit organization "leading the transition to a more resilient, equitable, and sustainable world". They have around thirty experts ("fellows") in their stable and many of them have written chapters for this book, ranging from climate and culture to economy and education (and much in-between). The quality of the texts are high and several texts made a big impression on me in this hefty (34 chapters, 450 pages long) book. It's difficult to say something about an edited book since it collects many diverse voices on many different topics, but I very much recommend this book. A major part of the book (30 chapters!) is available online - enjoy!

Douthwaite and Fallon's edited book has a great title, "Fleeing Vesuvius: Overcoming the risks of economic and environmental collapse" (2011), but does not live up to the level set by the Post carbon reader. This book is put together by another think-tank, the Irish Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability (Feasta) who aims to identify characteristics of a truly sustainable society and then to articulate and promote its implementation. Editor Douthwaite (a co-founder of Feasta) died half a year ago. Unfortunately, the quality of the texts are mixed, and a few were not very good. What furthermore irritated me was that it was hard to find a focus and a red thread as some texts treated big, global challenges, and other texts treat a (very) specific project. Some texts treated issues mostly of interest to Irish readers and perhaps of less interest to others. The texts were also of varying length (ranging from 5 to 30 pages) and the impression I got as a reader was that book was fragmented, and that some texts should have been rejected. Perhaps the core idea of the book should have been communicated better to prospective authors so as to get a more cohesive end result!

Finally I read Kingsnorth and Hine's edited book "Dark Mountain (Issue 1)" (2010). The Dark Mountain Project is a strange beast, "a network of writers, artists and thinkers who have stopped believing the stories our civilization tells itself. We see the world is entering an age of ecological collapse, material contraction and social and political unravelling, and we want our cultural responses to reflect this reality rather than denying it." The Dark Mountaineers are "beyond environmentalism" - they have stopped believing the world can be saved and that (climate- or other human-imposed global) disasters can be averted. So they mourn, but they also try to find reasons to rejoice and find happiness in a world heading in the wrong direction. This book was even more eclectic than "Fleeing Vesuvius", but it never attempted to be anything other than a literary experiment. Beyond (quite different) texts (essays), it also contains fiction, drawings, poetry and photos. The quality varies, there were a few great texts - for example editor Kingsnorth's own text - but let's just say that the recently-printed Volume 2 and the soon-to-be-printed Volume 3 hasn't made it to my to-buy list. Another quirky detail was that you could only pay for the book with a PayPal account (which I don't have, so it was kind of a hassle - but this might have changed since I bought the book). 


torsdag 14 juni 2012

Research Assessment Exercise (RAE)

My department, the whole School of Computer Science and Communication, and, as far as I know, all the other schools at KTH have undergone a so-called Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) this spring. RAE is apparently (according to Wikipedia) something that comes from the UK:

" exercise undertaken approximately every 5 years [...] to evaluate the quality of research undertaken by [all] British higher education institutions."

KTH has/will be visited by "Around 100 internationally renowned experts from academia and private industry [...] in June to evaluate 47 research areas". Just search for "KTH" and "RAE" if you are interested in finding out more about RAE, or about the previous KTH RAE (from 2008).

Much energy and time has been spent to collect information for the upcoming RAE during the spring (publications etc.). A report about our research area ("Unit of Assessment") - Mediated Communications - has been written and this week, finally, the experts came to talk to (or "interrogate"?) us.

I gave a 10-minute presentation about the Sustainability Team that I'm leading. Not that there is that much to say - we formally started up our activities only during the 2nd half of the spring term and have met only a few times this far. But, it's of course always possible to talk about our perspective on things (e.g. regarding sustainability and ICT), about individuals members in the team and their/our projects, about the new course (Sustainability and Media Technology) that we are giving after the summer, about what we want to do in the team (soon, or in the future) etc. I filled up my 10 minutes and actually got a lot said. I talked fast and I think (hope) I made my point. Or a point at the least.

No less than 8 teams and 2 "impact case studies" were presented and it took 3.5 hours altogether including a coffee break and a presentation of the whole research group/department. We also had a general rehearsal in the beginning of the week (another 4 hours). I honestly think that I have also spent at least 4 more hours (but probably more like 8 hours) putting together my presentation, revising my presentation and practicing the delivery. I had to create some new slides and even more importantly, I had to think through how I could position, and what I could say about our team. It's kind of absurd, but I think I have thus spent at least 1.5 full days, or perhaps even 2 full days, working on and with this 10-minute presentation.

On the positive side, it forced me to both flesh out and then distill my message, and it did give me a chance to communicate my/our sustainability perspective not just to the "jury" (the invited experts), but also to my colleagues and my bosses. I also learned more about what my colleagues do and that was in fact great. But still... 1.5 or 2 days of work for a 10-minutes presentation... I hope I at least will have much use for it later. The presentation is so compact, and I had to take so much out that I think I could easily expend it into a 45- and probably even a 90-minute lecture if I add some additional material. Now it's over and I can concentrate on other stuff that urgently needs to be done before I go on vacation.

Below is a nice picture from the slide set I used. It builds on a text I wrote quite some time ago about the inexpensiveness of electricity (compared to, say, a hundred years ago). My conclusion was that energy, for all practical purposes and from a historical perspective, basically is free today. Or, if not exactly free, then at least "too cheap to meter". The examples in the slide below would not have been possible though, were it not for this great blog post about "free energy" by Barath Raghavan. For some reason I just didn't think about "free energy" in exactly these terms before I read his blog post. Do notice the aesthetics of the pictures and the almost total absence of people. The meta-message is that not only is energy free/too cheap to meter, but we are liberally squandering it today by illuminating roads even when no-one drives on them etc.


söndag 10 juni 2012

Media Technology bachelor's theses spring 2012

I wrote a blog post recently about the five bachelor's theses that I have been the advisor of during the spring. This is the complementary blog post about the ten bachelor's thesis that I was the examiner of (only nine a listed below - the tenth is not finished yet and is a special case).

Being the examiner means that I read them quite carefully and prepared constructive critique as well as later also grading them. These theses (below) however only represent 1/3 of the theses that our students wrote this spring - so the title of this blog post is slightly misrepresentative.

I will later update this blog post and add links to the theses (they will all be published on the web - eventually). I especially liked the first four thesis below, they are more-or-less impeccably done and for the most part represent all you can ask for in a bachelor's thesis.

- Cedergren & Hellman, "Smartphone applications: The future tool for vocabulary learning?". Abstract. Thesis (pdf file).

- Florell & Berg, "Automatisk incheckning för att förenkla kontakt i större organisationer" ["Automated check in to aid communication at large organizations"]. Abstract. Thesis (pdf file).

- Andersson & Dawoud, "Supplementary video lectures and open educational resources in contemporary university mathematicsAbstract. Thesis (pdf file).

- Hammarbäck & Höglund, "Mattespel - vägen till bättre matematikundervisning? En studie på effekterna av spelifierade matematikläromedel för gymnasieskolan" ["Math games - Towards a better math education?: A study of the effects of gamified math education for upper high school"]. Abstract. Thesis (pdf file).


- Andersson & Jonell, "Utveckling av ett motiverande gränssnitt för inlärning: motivations- och prestationsaspekter" ["Developing a motivating interface for learning: aspects of motivation and performance"]. Abstract. Thesis (pdf file).

- Juntti & Lilja, "Föreläsningsbaserade interaktiva Sceencasts" ["Lecture-based interactive screencasts"]. Abstract. Thesis (pdf file).

- Hernandez & Huanca, "Användarstudie av mobila textmeddelandesystem" ["User study of mobile applications for text messaging"]. Abstract. Thesis (pdf file).

- Bergsmark & Nothnagel, "Virtuell handel i onlinespel ur spelares perspektiv" ["Real-Money-Trade in online games from the player's perspective"]. Abstract. Thesis (pdf file).

- Janarv & Warne, "New incentives for players in virtual goods trade: How the marketplace in Diablo 3 changes trade with virtual goods". Abstract. Thesis (pdf file).

tisdag 5 juni 2012

Articles I've read lately (May)

Just as last month, my 30-day promise for May was to "to read an average of 10 pages of academic articles every weekday and preferably at work rather than home". The result has been so-so for two different reasons:

- A deadline for an article made itself known and I had to exchange a lot of the readings on my literature/article reading list. I have little idea if I managed to reach the 220 pages that was the goal for May, but I presume I didn't (see below). I organized the texts-to-be-read into four neat weekly folders at the beginning of the month, but new stuff "jumped the queue" and I have "pushed forward" 2.5 out of 4 weekly folders. They sit on my desk and beg to be read in June instead...

- Bachelor's thesis season. In the first half of the month I had to read the five thesis that I'm the advisor of and in the second half of the month I instead had to read the ten thesis that I was the examiner of. These 30+ pages long documents have to be read quite carefully and with some attention to detail, and 15 thesis ≈ 500 pages of text that needed to be read urgently. This took a huge bite out of the time I had for reading stuff in May.

Taking this into account, I'm pleasantly surprised it turned out that I still managed to read 15 texts this month, although I believe the average length of the texts (articles) is low and I'm quite sure they together don't reach the 220 page-goal for the month of May. Some of the texts are purebred bona fide academic articles and others are of "mixed origin". The articles can for the most part easily be found through Google Scholar. Do note that I have added a "tag" below, "unpublished", referring to things that are not available on the web and most probably will never be (so don't bother looking for them...). Here are the 15 texts I read min May with a short comment about each of them:

  • Blevis, E. (2007). Sustainable interaction design: invention & disposal, renewal & reuse. Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems (pp. 503-512). ACM. */ One of articles that kicked off the field of Sustainability and/in HCI. The articles summarizes and proposes a program for going forward. Most closely relates to this blog text.
  • Eriksson, E. (2012 - unpublished). The oh so not written thesis - A jumble of UCD, sensemaking, organizational change and people. */ Written for an internal doctoral conference/colloquium at my department. I was the designated opponent. UCD = User-Centered Design.
  • Hall, C. A., Balogh, S., & Murphy, D. J. (2009). What is the minimum EROI that a sustainable society must have? Energies, 2(1), 25-47. Molecular Diversity Preservation International. */ What Energy Return on Investment (EROI) (i.e. how much surplus energy) must our energy sources have in order for us to be able to maintain our civilization? The fact that we always go for the lowest-hanging fruit will turn out to become increasingly problematic in the (close) future as we have to switch from "better" to "worse" energy sources. 
  • Hecker, T. E. (2007). The post-petroleum future of academic libraries. Journal of scholarly publishing, 38(4), 183-199. UT Press. */ What is the future of (academic) libraries and librarians after we are hit by peak oil and we start to abandon unsupportable technologies? "This article presents informed speculation about the place of academic libraries in the resource-compromised and ecologically devastated human condition of the not-distant future". Most closely relates to this blog text.
  • Heinberg, R. (2010). What Is Sustainability? The Post Carbon Reader, 11-19. */ Concise, excellent primer/discussion about what constitutes "sustainability"; "A sustainable society [...] would be able to maintain itself for many centuries at least" (hint: it's all about the environment). Most closely relates to this blog text.
  • Jesshope, C. R. (2006). The Microprocessor and Peak Oil - Discontinuities in our Civilisation. Inaugural lecture delivered on the accession of appointment as professor in Computer Science Engineering of the University of Amsterdam. Vossiupers UvA. */ A blatant case of false marketing; "peak oil" only used a rhetorical device to signify "big changes ahead". 
  • Picha, M. (2012 - unpublished). Publishing and broadcasting - Editorial process structures and environmental impacts. */ Written for an internal doctoral conference/colloquium at my department. I was the designated opponent.
  • Raghavan, B., & Ma, J. (2011). The energy and emergy of the internet. Proceedings of the 10th ACM Workshop on Hot Topics in Networks (p. 9). ACM. */ Very interesting attempt to estimate "how much energy is required to construct, run, and maintain the Internet". Includes both "running costs" as well as the emergy - the energy that is "embodied" in the Internet's constituent parts (i.e. the energy needed to construct cell towers, routers, end devices etc.). Most closely relates to this blog text.
  • Raghavan, B., Irwin, D., Albrecht, J., Ma, J., & Streed, A. (2012). An intermittent Internet architechtureProceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Future Energy Systems: Where Energy, Computing and Communication Meet (p. 5). ACM. */ Very interesting thought-experiment to "re-design the Internet for an energy-constrained future powered by diffuse, intermittent, and expensive power sources". Most closely relates to this blog text.
  • Reeves, S. (2012). Envisioning Ubiquitous ComputingProceedings of the 2012 annual conference extended abstracts on Human factors in computing systems. ACM. */ Extremely interesting article about how visions of compu-techno-futures are created and communicated - with a focus on ubiquitous computing. Most closely relates to this blog text.
  • Rijnhout, L., & Schauer, T. (2009). Socially Sustainable Economic Degrowth. Workshop in the European Parliament, Brussels. */ Proceedings of a workshop with mixed quality of the contributions. I very much like the text by Joan Martinez Alier (Universidad Autònoma de Barcelona) and Francois Schneider's text (same university) was also interesting. These are people/authors I ought to look up!
  • Thomas, D. (2009). Surviving Transition Sustainability in the 21 st Century. */ A not-very-good summary of many different things. Lacks purpose, clarity and sharpness; a forgettable text - I don't know where it is published or how it turned up in Google scholar
  • Tomlinson, B., Silberman, M. S., Patterson, D., Pan, Y., & Blevis, E. (2012). Collapse Informatics: Augmenting the Sustainability & ICT4D Discourse in HCIProceedings of the 2011 annual conference extended abstracts on Human factors in computing systems. ACM. */ Extremely interesting attempt to define a new subfield, "collapse informatics" - "the study, design, and development of sociotechnical systems in the abundant present for use in a future of scarcity". Most closely relates to this blog post.
  • Weiser, M. (1991). The computer for the 21st century. Scientific American, 265(3), 94-104. New York. */ A classic that I re-read. Has been referred to almost 9000 times in Google scholar - a must-read for anyone interested in ubiquitous computing. Most closely relates to this blog text.
  • Zapico, J. (in press). ICT and environmental sustainability, friend of foe? */ A book review that is written by a colleague of mine and that is to be published in the interdisciplinary open-access journal Information technologies & International development.

Here is the previous blog post with articles that I read in April.

söndag 3 juni 2012

Green ICT for growth and sustainability?

I have just returned from a workshop in Vienna on "Green ICT for growth and sustainability?" Do notice the question mark - one of the main questions at the workshop was indeed to "improve the mutual understanding between the "pro-growth community" (i.e. economists and policy makers oriented towards growth as an overarching policy goal) and the "beyond-growth community" (i.e. scientists oriented towards the limits to growth debate and policy makers involved in sustainable development)." (the quote comes from the pdf "event flyer").

The tension between pro- and beyond-growth was also one of the things that originally attracted my attention. I know what I personally think, but I need to have an intelligen "stance" in regards to this question when I teach my new course on "Sustainability and media technology" after the summer. I asked the moderator to perform an informal poll (raised hands), and the majority of the participants (75%?) claimed membership in the "beyond-growth" community. I did have problems connecting this large majority to the actual opinions expressed at the workshop though, so I guess there is no real consensus as to what "beyond-growth" actually means though...

The subtitle of the event was "Linking science and policy", something I didn't think much of at the time, but which actually is one of the explicit goals of the EU research project of which this workshop was a part. The event that I participated in was part of a larger (research) project of linking "sustainable consumption and economic growth" and it was the last of five such workshops (the others four were held between January and May 2012 and covered "Sustainable food consumption", "Sustainable mobility", "Sustainable housing" and "The role of household savings and debts in a sustainable economy"). There was perhaps a (slight) tension between the interests of on the one hand some of the organizers who might primarily have been interested in the larger research project and the whole series of (five) workshops and on the other hand the participants of this particular workshop who were primarily interested in "Green ICT" and less interested in other sustainability topics or in linking science to policy (?)

The term "knowledge brokerage" was used several times and I take it to be a more fancy term for "discussing stuff together". I'm not sure about the success of this event in terms of "knowledge brokerage" between EU policymakers (Eurocrats) and researchers, but I do think it was a success in many other terms and I enjoyed participating in the workshop very much. What was so good about it? The short answer is 1) the organization and 2) the participants. The fact that many participants enjoyed each other's company might in fact have been an effect of the great organization. So what was so great about the organization then? Here are a few things:

- The organizers had hired a professional mediator/presenter. He worked throughout the event and he knew just enough about the topic (Green ICT) to pose good and relevant questions, but he above all knew how to make people interact with each other and how to get the participants to open up and to pose good and relevant questions. He was great and he set a positive tone for the whole event.

- The program contained many events which were "interactive". Instead of (only) "passively" hearing talks and lectures, there were several exercises where we divided ourselves into parallel working groups depending on our interests. These work sessions were followed by "debriefings" and knowledge transfer between the work groups. More than half of the program consisted of these "active" (or "interactive") exercises. The other half consisted of invited talks ("keynotes" - see the list of speakers) and panels and of coffee breaks and lunches.

- Coffee and lunch was served where we worked and so we could eat and socialize during these breaks. This together with the slightly "pushy" mediator recurrently telling us to talk to people we didn't know made it easy for many to get to know many other participants. The program started at 9 in the morning and very few people dropped in later or left early.

The main exercise we did was something called "systems mapping". Part of my participation in the workshop was in order to evaluate if I could use this method in my education in general, and more specifically in my upcoming course "Sustainability and media technology" in particular. I think I will write a separate blog post about systems mapping within one or a few weeks. I might also write a follow-up blog post that more specifically summarizes my take-home lessons from this workshop as this post is more about the (organization of the) event itself.

It was stated that the proportion of researchers-to-policymakers at the workshop was 80/20. I'm not so sure about that, I could only find one person (of the 40-50 participants) who agreed that he actually was a policymaker. Some participants were neither, or in-between (for example an analyst working for the International Energy Agency). During the final discussion, we agreed that as stakeholders go, perhaps equally or more interesting than having EU policymakers participate would be to have (also) participants representing industry (for example Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon etc.). There was one guy at the workshop, Dan, who being an "environment research manager" works with "green issues" in Microsoft's data centers in Europe, and his input was extremely valuable. He actually knew a lot of stuff about the practical work of making data centers green - some other participants (researchers) also knew stuff but he had "inside info" (although there were also things such as actual Microsoft figures that he wasn't allowed to talk about). It would have been great with more people with "inside info" about these present-day closed-off "Internet factories"...

There will be a second round of workshops on the same topics between December 2012 and April 2013 and I will keep my eyes open for the follow-up Green ICT workshop. I would be especially interested to go if a large-ish proportion of the people I met decides to come back! I learned a lot and made several interesting contacts that I will get in touch with during the coming week