fredag 31 januari 2014

On the monetary intensity of media consumption

I know, the title of this blog post sounds really boring - but you are obviously smart enough to understand that it's really interesting to think some about the costs that media consumption incur in terms of money per hour (of media consumption). I will aggressively round off the numbers below and I will use Swedish prices and Swedish crowns since that's what I'm most familiar with. The exchange rate at the moment is 1 USD = 7 SEK and 1 Euro = 9.50 SEK

Let's say I want to watch a movie at a cinema. It's two hours long and it costs 100 SEK. The cost of watching movies at a cinema is thus 50 SEK/hour. Watching a theatre play costs more or less the double, and I personally think that's a bargain taking into account the uniqueness of the experience and the fact that you have actual people performing a service (performing the theatre play) for you.

Let's compare these figures with the cost per hour of reading fiction. The pocket books I read usually cost 100 SEK (or less) and I estimate that it takes around a dozen hours for me to read the average book, i.e. the price/hour of the activity "reading fiction" is around 7.50 SEK/hour. I can perhaps push the price down to 5 SEK/hour if I read less expensive pocket books. The costs of reading academic literature is higher though. Many books costs more than twice as much (>200 SEK), but they usually take less than 25 hours to read. I estimate that the price is between 10-15 SEK/hour for reading academic books

At, there are around 19.000 "movies" (including boxed TV series) for sale and a third of them are in the 50-100 SEK price bracket. If I buy a movie and watch it alone, the price might be the same as for watching it on the big screen (at a cinema), but if I watch that same movie more than once, or if I watch it together with someone else, I push the price down to half of that (25 SEK/hour) or less.

It is obviously hard to estimate the cost per hour of watching a movie you buy as it depends on how many persons and how many times you watch it (children's movies obviously delivers value for your money as they can sometimes be watched dozens of times). It's even worse to try to estimate the costs of streaming video services. Subscribing to either Netflix and HBO costs 80 SEK/month in Sweden. That's less than the price of going to the movies once per month and the price for having one of those services for a full year is about the same as two or three visits to a theatre together with my wife. Streaming video is obviously good value for your money, but the cost per hour will ultimately depend on how many hours per day, week or month you watch stuff. There ought to be some cut-off level, i.e. if you watch less than one hour per week, you might ask yourself why you subscribe to the service in question, but it might be enough to watch one movie per week or a couple of episodes of a TV series for you to "endure" the modest costs for that service. Do also note that several members of the family can use the same service (which pushes down the costs per hour). How much can you watch per week at the most? I think 20 hours per week would constitute a heavy user whose main interest is watching movies and TV series (for an average of 3 hours per day - a substantial part of your leisure time). As a family, you can probably squeeze out 40-80 hours per week from such a service. Netflix or HBO will thus land your costs at somewhere between 1-20 SEK/hour - which seems to be very reasonable costs.

The reason I started to think about these issues though is because of a game that one of my sons downloaded for the Ipad a month ago, "Kingdom Rush: Frontiers". It cost 3 USD (22 SEK) and it's a hit with the whole family. Since we were on month-long vacation over Christmas, no less than three persons were playing that particular game for something like 4-6 hours/day for several weeks. Let's very conservatively say we have played that game for 100 hours. That results in a cost of just 0.2 SEK/hour. And, we are not finished with the game yet, so the cost per hour will decrease further - although who cares if it's 0.2,  0.1 SEK/hour or less - it must still be one of the most inexpensive examples of media consumption around. Since we have played it so much, we have however incurred some extra costs in the form of in-game content. We have bough three extra characters and they cost 1 USD, 1 USD and 3 USD respectively for a total (additional) sum of 5 USD (38 SEK). That drives up the costs per hour (this far) to 0.5 SEK/hour. It's still really really inexpensive also in comparison to "traditional" computer games (Grand Theft Auto, Mario Cart, Call of Duty etc) where new games cost upwards to 500 SEK (!). You need to play such a game for 500 hours to push the costs down to 1 SEK/hour.

Do note that I only analyse media consumption in this text. It is of course also possible to spend your time on activities that don't cost anything at all (take a walk, talk to a friend, help your kids do their homework, listen to a podcast) or activities that might in fact save or earn you money (mending clothes and handcrafts of various kinds). Such calculations would become a lot more complicated so I'll stay away from that particular can of worms here.

My ramblings above were initially inspired by this picture of the energy intensity of different activities:

Picture: Steeper angle = higher energy intensity per hour. Longer line = more hours spent per day doing the activity in question. The activities from most to least energy intensive are: vacation trips, meals, shopping, household work, hobbies, reading, watching TV and doing sports.

Here's a summary of the costs calculated above (from high to low)

- Watching a theatre play: 100 SEK/hour (14 $/h)
- Watching a movie on cinema: 50 SEK/hour (7 $/h)
- Watching a movie on DVD: 12.5 - 50 SEK/hour (2 - 7 $/h)
- Watching Netflix or HBO Nordic: 1 - 20 SEK/hour (0.15 - 3 $/h)
- Reading academic books: 10 - 15 SEK/hour (1.5 - 3 $/h)
- Reading fiction: 5 - 7.5 SEK/hour (0.7 - 1 $/h)
- Playing a popular game on iPad: 0.5 SEK/hour (or less!) (< 0.1 $/h))

fredag 24 januari 2014

University Hills

Today we have been in the US and at University of California, Irvine (UCI) for exactly one week. It feels like a lot longer because so much has happened in such a short amount of time. I will use this blog post to write (and analyse) a few things I have noticed, that I think are interesting or that baffles me. I will more specifically write about University Hills, where we live, and about enrolling my kids in school. I might have misunderstood something, but the factual statements below are true to the best of my knowledge (for whatever it's worth).

University Hills
I didn't realise it beforehand, but the house we rent is not only located right next to the university, it is in fact located in a neighbourhood and on land that belongs to the university. This is truly exotic and almost bizarre to me because only professors and staff who work at the university are allowed to buy these houses. I'd never even heard of such an arrangement before we came here last week. If you live here and want to sell your house, you can only sell it to someone who works at the university. If you quit your job at the university, you have to sell your house (unless your partner still works there). There are apparently quite a few rules that regulate and limit the prices of the houses, but the university has basically created a separate, sheltered housing market of its own, with house prices that are perhaps half of what comparable houses in neighbouring areas cost. It costs less to buy a house here, but you will on the other hand not be able to profit from prices soaring in the local, southern Californian housing market.

You might ask "why"? Why create a separate housing market for university employes? One important reason is that Irvine (and neighbouring areas) are very affluent and the university has to make sure that it can attract and keep its personnel. That's not possible if a professor's salary isn't enough to pay for a nice house to live in relatively near to the university (and in a nice neighbourhood with good schools, regular pick-up of trash and so on). This still sounds pretty weird to me because if a university professor can't afford to buy a house, who can? Where do all the people who have jobs that earns them less money than university professors live? Apparently it was decided some decades ago that it was better for the university to own land and build houses than to raise university professors' salaries to compete with other successful professionals who also want to live in the area (including doctors, lawyers and indeed even some actors, sportsmen, pop stars and other celebrities). There might of course also have been other reasons, including social reasons, for building a professors-only neighbourhood.

University Hills is apparently a successful and attractive option for local professors (and university staff) because it is expanding - new houses are being built as I write this. Someone told me that half of the UCI faculty lives in University Hills! Can that be right - it sounds like a lot to me. The Wikipedia article on University Hills says there are 1180 houses here (and that the first houses were built 30 years ago) and University Hills is an "important recruiting tool" for the university. The house we rent here was among the first wave of houses being built and I know for a fact that the people we rent from have lived here for more than 20 years. The Wikipedia article on UCI says there are 1100 faculty members and 9000 staff at UCI. (Here are more detailed figures about the UCI workforce - but do all qualify to live here?)

The whole University Hills arrangement is pretty amazing to me. It means that a large part of the faculty work, live, have friends and large parts of their social networks within an area of just a few kilometers. I believe I live in something that can be compared to a premodern village where "everybody know everybody" - but where only university professors live. Or is this perhaps a ghetto for professors (good to keep them contained!?)? It's anyway very interesting to me since I read soo much about communities and virtual communities for my Ph.D. back in the 1990's. I have by now lived in University Hills for a week but still can't wrap my head around the concept. Or rather, I can't wrap my head around the implications of this (to me) alien arrangement.

Still, here are some observations this far. I would presume that the arrangement makes people stay at UCI for longer than at other, comparable universities. Moving elsewhere also means you loose not only your professional colleagues, but also some (or many) of your social contacts. I can imagine that it would be very difficult to move away if you've lived here for 10+ years (and have children who have grown up here). University Hills residents have started a website with lots of information as well as a sharing of experiences and tips about kids' activities, dentists, electricians and stuff happening in the community.

Most amazing to me is perhaps the University Hills-only (you have to have a local street address to join) mailing list I joined last weekend. I sent a short note asking if anyone had bikes to sell, borrow or give away to me and my family. Within one hour I had gotten no less than seven answers (!) and another equally large bunch of answers arrived in short order (within a day). What proved to be a bit more difficult was coordinating and find times to go look at the bikes (it took three days or so for us to have a set of four bicycles and I had to turn down several very generous offers).

There just are a lot of garages in the neighbourhood with a lot of bikes in them, and some people are happy just to get rid of their old bikes as long as someone else has use of them. Some want the bikes back when we leave and others just want to get rid of them. First prize in neighbourly friendliness goes to the one neighbour who wanted to give away a bike and a helmet since her son would have his birthday soon and has been promised a brand new bike by his grandfather. Not only were we offered to get the bike for free - we were also invited to the birthday party tomorrow (with a "reptile show" - whatever that exactly is)! I have a hard time imagining that would happen in Sweden, but then again we don't have a KTH Hills neighbourhood with "subsidised" houses right next to our campus. Is that perhaps something KTH should think about?

As to the University Hills distribution list, I am also fascinated by the "I-have-these-things-that-I-don't-need-any-longer-and-I'm-putting-them-on-the-sidewalk-outside-my-house-and-you-are-welcome-to-get-them" messages. Attractive stuff often disappear in no time at all in this "non-monetary economy" that runs on goodwill. It of course also runs on affluence - people here have a lot and can afford to give away stuff they don't use/want/need any longer. Beyond giving away things, people just as importantly also give away information and advice freely. My second message to the list was a request for local Swedish speakers to get in touch with us. We were especially interested in getting in touch with Swedish-speaking kids in the neighbourhood. People on the list forwarded our message to others not on the list and we managed to get in touch with a few Swedes (a Swedish family with two children, a Swedish guy who has a dog).

All in all, I can't praise this distribution list enough and I will for sure use it again, soon. One reason it works so well is of course because of the geographical vicinity of everyone to everyone else, as wells as the fact that a large degree of social control is present in such a small and close-knit community. You don't want to be known for being an a**hole among your friends, neighbours and professional colleagues. I'm sure there just has be some disadvantages too of living so close to your colleagues, but it's harder to see them as no one is forced to live in the neighbourhood (the existence of easily accessible escape hatches differs from the premodern village). You can always move elsewhere if you don't like it here. I of course write all of this with the caveat that we have only been in the US/California/Irvine/University Hills for one week at this point. I will most certainly have different understandings and more nuanced opinions half a year from now.

School is free in the US. There are no fees at all and that is a huge benefit for us. Enrolling the kids in school hasn't been hassle-free though - to say the least. We started working on this half a year ago and one of the hardest problems was to understand the steps that were involved in the opaque process of enrolling the kids in a school. Much energy has thus been spent on just understanding what is to be done when. We did all we could before we came to the US but quite some was still missing (which we of course didn't realise before we arrived). One especially frustrating battle (we lost) was with the Aeries Internet Registration system (for students new to the Irvine Unified School District). The system required us to submit a local telephone number as well as other information that we just didn't have access to before we arrived, and it wasn't possible to progress in the system without this information.

In hindsight I still have to say that the process has been quite smooth. Monday was a holiday so we turned up at school on Tuesday (we had warned them in advance). After completing a heavy load of paperwork, our kids were schedules for a language test two days later (Thursday). With the results of that test in our hands, the kids got a school placement already the same day and started in school (Turtle Rock Elementary) already the following day (Friday).

What we had not thought about though was the fact that while school is free, after-school programs and activities are very expensive. All of these programs are run by private companies or by the city of Irvine and they can easily cost 500 USD or more per child per month. That's a lot more than what we pay for state-subsidised preschool ("förskola") and after-school programs ("fritidshem") in Sweden. I payed 120 USD per month for preschool and 60 USD for the after-school program back in Sweden - and you can get that price reduced if you don't earn enough money... It has to be said thought that there are few "options"or "alternatives" to what you are offered in Sweden. It's more of a "take it or leave it"-situation and everyone to a fault takes it.

The activities that are offered in the after-school programs here seem to be a lot better structured and thought-through than what our kids get in Sweden though. Also, you can choose to enrol you child for five days per week, but equally well choose one or three days per week (with corresponding price cuts). Still, the question is if the difference in quality can justify the difference in price? Also, it's unfortunate that not all American children get access to these excellent programs. I guess this is the different between Sweden and the US in a nutshell; in Sweden everybody get access to the same good-enough "lagom" solutions, while Americans have access to an a la carte menu of almost infinite options that are great but expensive (so that many can't afford anything at all). If you have enough money, life is good here, but if you have less, it's bound to suck big time compared to Sweden.

All in all, we haven't figured out exactly what to do about after-school programs yet, but we for sure need some for our kids. Not the least since our youngest goes to kindergarten (which is only half-day and ends at 11.20). We surely need to extend our workday longer than than to 11.20 or not much will be accomplished during our six months long sabbatical here at UCI...

Here's an example of a message from the University Hills mailing list (March 2014):
We have a Bose Lifestyle 5 sound system available. ... The sound quality is very good, and it works great with Airplay. The $100 price includes friendly installation in your home by the Chair of the UCI Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department.

PS (140519). Here's an excellent newspaper article about University Hills, "UCI's tenure tract". The article states that 65% of UCI's 1100-plus faculty live in Uhills as well as some other staff (higher-paid administrators I would presume). 

onsdag 22 januari 2014

My near-death Airbnb experience

I've used Airbnb once (in Denmark), this past summer, and I have tried to use it twice more (Denmark again and the UK), but couldn't find a good match since I started looking too late and didn't spread my net wide enough. When we decided we had relaxed enough at my mother-in-law's summer house (two weeks ago), we belatedly started looking for a nice apartment to rent in Buenos Aires for our last five nights in Argentina.

We wanted to go to Buenos Aires between Sat Jan 11 amd Thu Jan 16 and I started looking for apartments exactly one week in advance (Sat Jan 4). I found lots and lots of interesting apartments in the area we wanted (Recoleta) and I sent off a number of requests. Well, that's what I thought anyway. Based on my previous experiences, I (thought I) knew it could be difficult to find an apartment on short notice. What I didn't realise was that my past experiences not only were not of any help to me, but that they would in fact lead me in the wrong direction. I now know there is a huge supply of apartments to rent (more on that later) and even before I had sent out all of my requests, I had gotten positive answers back - something I didn't notice until the next morning. It also turned out that my "request" was in fact a request for booking the apartment(s) in question and that owner's almost-immediate acceptance sealed the deal. Worse was that I didn't find out/realise this until the day after. I had thought there was once more step in that process - that I needed to confirm the reservation before any money was withdrawn from my credit card, but I was wrong.

So, all of a sudden I sat with almost half a dozen confirmed bookings of different apartments in Buenos Aires for the same four (named) persons and for the same five nights. Also I had to pay for five parallell apartments. Not. So. Darn. Good. I cancelled what I could, but I was still in the middle of a huge mess.

One of the landlords automatically cancelled (gave me back) my payment, but at one point it looked like I still would have to pay for four apartments. They had all set their cancellation policy to "strict" - meaning that if I cancelled less than a week before (a deadline that I was just on the wrong side of), I still had to pay (almost) the full cost of renting the apartment.  What to do? I got in touch with the Airbnb support and tried to explain that this was all due to a misunderstanding and a stupid mistake on my behalf. They instead suggested I use their online resolution tool and make an offer to the landlords. My offer included explaining what had happened and then offering to pay for one (rather than five) nights at their place to make up for any possible inconvenience on their behalf:

As you know, I was a little bit too fast at booking your apartment and I cancelled my booking only a few hours later. I have only used Airbnb once before (a year ago) and I actually thought that I needed to confirm my reservation before we entered into a contract, but it turns out I was wrong. It now seems that Airbnb will withdraw almost the whole amount - and your apartment unfortunately wasn't the only apartment I had booked. I would very much appreciate if you could refund my money to me. I only request to get the costs for four nights back - paying for one night is the least I can do for being a total idiot about these things.  [...] I hope you can agree it would be reasonable for you to refund me the money I ask for. [...] I hope you understand my situation, that you accept my apologies for any inconvenience I have caused - and that you will refund me. 
Again, sorry for the problems I have caused and all the best for 2014."
Translation: "Sorry, I was an idiot. By all means keep some of my money but please give most of it back to me, please".

Of the three persons I negotiated with, one accepted my offer and gave me back 80% of the money in question, one made a counter-offer for half of the amount I had suggested (which I accepted, e.g. 40% of the money in question) and the last person refused my offer. Me and that guy had an "entertaining" e-mail conversation (minimally shortened):

"Daniel, I understand your point. But the rules aren´t mine. Airbnb made me choose the kind of reservation I 'd like to use. I am very sorry for your mistake, but please, also understand my side, on the nights you booked I couldn't booked to other, real guests, so I have a loss myself if I refund you those nights."
Translation: Airbnb forces me to take your money. And I lost business because of your booking.

I actually have very little understanding for your position. You can choose which cancellation policy you will have (Airbnb doesn't force you to have a strict policy), and, you can also choose to accept my request for a refund even after you have chosen a strict cancellation policy. No one is forcing you to keep all the money and certainly not Airbnb. It is only up to your own conscience to choose how you live your life and how you treat others. I admit I made a mistake. Your decision is to choose if you will do the honorable thing or if you choose to grab my money with both hands.
I understand that other guests could not book the apartment when I had booked it, but since it was only for a period of a few hours (perhaps as little as two), I have a hard time believing you lost a lot of business. Do you agree? Would it not then be a way to meet in the middle for me to pay for one night and regard that money (around 100 USD) as money (a reimbursement) for any possible lost business of yours during those two hours?"
Translation: Don't blame Airbnb, it's up to you to make a decision. Lost business? You must be joking, that's a fig-leaf explanation to hide behind. Don't be an immoral person.

"First of all, my conscience is clean and honorable. Thanks for care about it. I am afraid your point about the time that you argue is not right. I feel very sorry for you, but this is business."
Translation: Don't take it personally, but this is business. I'm a good guy, but I'm keeping your money and you can't stop me.

"I can't stop you, but I for sure don't think it is fair. I booked several apartments thinking I had only expressed an interest in these apartments and that I would get the opportunity to confirm the booking later.
I cancelled some of my reservations within two other and others some 12 hours later (the next day). I can't recall exactly how many hours it took in your case and I might have been mistaken when I said two hours. If so, I'm sorry for that.
But now you will take my money and I can't spend my vacation with my wife and children the way we would have wanted to. "This is business" in not a great consolation for me and I'm sorry to say that in my mind, your conscience is not clean and honorable. But if you can live with watching yourself in the mirror for the rest of your life, I can live with loosing my money. Perhaps you need our money more than we do.
My wife's Argentinian family warned me about using Airbnb in Argentina and I guess they were right. You learn something every day."
Translation: You're an asshole and you verify the internal Argentinian stereotype of Argentina being a country of smalltime and bigtime cheaters and crooks ("vivos"), followed by some defeatism and self-pity on my behalf.

After having reached this point, I got in touch with the Airbnb customer service again. Do note that I wrote my messages above with an audience in mind. That audience isn't really you, but rather the Airbnb support staff. I wanted it to be clear from the conversation that I was the good guy (to be believed and helped) and that he was the bad guy (preferably to be punished or at least humiliated in some way. Lo and behold (and this really is pretty incredible), just a few days later Airbnb decided to give me most of the money back (80% again) - out of their own pocket! That really was unexpected. Here is the key sentence in a longer mail:

"Additionally, Airbnb has personally provided a full refund for your reservation with Chelo as a one-time exception to our policies. A total of 3543 Kr [520 USD] has been returned to your [credit card]. Please note that all refunds may take 5-7 days."

In the end, I had to pay not for four or five apartments and not even for three or two, but more or less for one and a half apartment. I was really happy about that outcome. Moving on to reflections and some analysis, what can be learned from this mishap of mine?

1) It pays to complain, to communicate, to beg, threaten and persist (or whatever else it was that I did and that paid off in the end). It did take some time, but it was definitely worth it. Also, it really is an advantage to be able to control your temper and formulate what you want to say in nuanced ways (including when you're in touch with customer services). You want them to understand and sympathise with your perspective and root for you (perhaps even against the formal rules they have to comply with).

2) Airbnb does not want to make any heavy-handed decisions early on in the process. That would tend to make either the host or the guest very angry (with their anger directed towards Airbnb). It's much better (from Airbnb's point of view) to ask the parties to try to resolve their problems themselves.

3) Afterwards, when no more progress was possible, Airbnb stepped in. In this particular case they gave me more money back than what they made of me as a customer. But I will for sure be a returning (and much more careful and canny) customer in the future. In fact, I will from now on make it a habit to check out Airbnb before I book a hotel whenever I go to scientific conferences (ca 2-5 times every year). It would be especially interesting to share an apartment and get to know your colleagues better instead of booking rooms in a more impersonal hotel.

4) Chelo Gronchi is not just a grapic designer in Buenos Aires - he is also an asshole. Don't rent his apartment next time you pass Buenos Aires by! There's at least a thousand other apartments to choose from.

5) In some places (Denmark) Airbnb supply is more limited, while it apparently is abundant in other places (Buenos Aires). Some people manage multiple apartments and sit by their computers all day long. You have to realise that you are sometimes dealing with professional companies and sometimes with "professional amateurs" (owners who have made it a business out of renting out their apartment).

6) Check out the Airbnb cancellation policy! More generally, be careful when you use websites that have your credit card information. It can be easy to do something stupid and order something for "mucho dinero" in no time at all. Take it from someone who almost blew a major part of his monthly salary on a misunderstanding of Airbnb procedures!

Last but not least, why are so many apartments available for rent in Buenos Aires? One reason is that the country has a runaway inflation (35% last year). Even if a brand new car looses a lot of its value during the first year, it might be the case that the car is still a better investment (looses less in value) than having your money in the bank! So if you come across a sizeable amount of money, how do you secure it and make sure a third of it hasn't disappeared a year from now? You buy an apartment! You can rent it out long-term, but another alternative is apparently to rent it out to tourists through Airbnb and similar services. Yet another benefit is that you will get paid in dollars (or some other hard currency) that gains in value as the Argentinian pesos looses in value month after month. 

söndag 19 januari 2014

Usability as a threat to a sustainable future

Just as last year, we have once more submitted a position paper to the CHI pre-conference sustainability workshop. This year's workshop is called "What have we learned?" and the full text/invitation to the workshop can be found here. As I've been out traveling/on vacation lately, I couldn't take on the primary responsibility for writing the paper. The authors are (in order of work effort) Elina Eriksson, Daniel Pargman and Henrik Artman.

The workshop itself is structured around three broad tasks and it poses eight questions that will orient the discussions at the workshop. Our contribution focuses on questions 4 and 5:
- 4. How can HCI help achieve sustainability?
- 5. How should HCI & Sustainability research be evaluated?

The central theme in our paper is to go beyond question four - which assumes that HCI can help achieve sustainability - and also discuss how HCI sometimes helps achieve unsustainability. But it's in fact hard to answer how HCI helps or hinders sustainability until we also ask to what ends we are making systems easier to use. Are smooth "usable" systems good and compatible with sustainability if they at the same time restrict the users from opening up, scrutinising, understanding and developing the gadgets and the systems they have bought? What if systems are usable but unrepairable so that people throw them away and replace them the very minute a simple problem appears? Below is our abstract:

Usability as a threat to a sustainable future: Induced disability through better HCI

The sustainability agenda is at this point well established within the HCI field, although perhaps it isn't a major movement yet. There are without a doubt looming problems of various kinds - including resource depletion and climate change - that calls for preparedness, mitigation and probably even adaptation. In this paper, we are discussing the possibility that a single-minded focus on usability, without reflection on outcomes, is a threat to a sustainable future. Furthermore, we also argue that there is a risk that the quest for systems with "better usability" might actually crate induced disability, severely hampering the possibilities for people to understand, repair and reuse technologies and leading to less resilience in the event of collapse. We also discuss what implications this has for the HCI field in general as well as for HCI and sustainability in particular. Moreover, how should HCI research be evaluated taking this into account?

söndag 12 januari 2014

Follow-up (autumn 2013)

This is the fourth and last summary in a row that covers different aspects of last year's activities. This time I turn my gaze to the blog posts I have written during the autumn to see if there is any additional information I might add and that clarifies events that have since happened.

I've done follow-ups three times before and here is the previous follow-up, covering the first half of 2013. I have recently realized that a few projects that were initiated during the late spring or early summer would not have been covered in the previous follow-up and would not be covered in this blog post either if I strictly limited my gaze only to stuff I have written about after the summer. This is a weakness in my "follow-up methodology" and I will thus from now on go back a full year to see if I need to pick up and shortly write about any additional spring projects that weren't covered in my previous follow-up half a year ago.

Spring 2013
Back in February I went to Switzerland and the first international conference on ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S) - by train. The second ICT4S conference will be organized by KTH and held in Stockholm at the end of the summer (August 26-28). The deadline for submitting papers is in the end of February so do consider writing something for the conference if you do work in this area!

Back in August, we submitted an article about the use of social media in higher education. I was rejected and a list of changes and improvements were suggested by the two anonymous reviewers. I'm the third out of four authors and it mostly fell on the first author to do another round of work on the article to improve it during the autumn.

We also handed in a proposal for a book chapter on "Cheating and creative play in EVE Online". Apparently the editors were inundated with proposals and ours was rejected. I still think we have a good thing going and might develop our proposal into a stand-alone journal article and send it to one of the journals in the area of (computer) games research.

After the Engineering Education for Sustainable Development (EESD) conference, both of the papers I had written (together with others) were invited to a special issue of the Journal of Cleaner Production. That is, they were determined "to have potential for upgrading" and then be submitted to the journal. Unfortunately the deadline is this month and doesn't fit my schedule at all so I have declined. In December, I got a second invitation, this time to rewrite the article into a book chapter in a book/project about the global dimension of engineering. You might ask yourself what the "global dimension" is (I certainly did) and it "refers to all the non-technical topics that will impact the engineering profession at at a global level over the next 20-30 year". Sustainability is one of these topics.

The Science Fiction workshop I led and that I wrote about was one out of four workshops on the same theme that I either led or partook in during the autumn (with three different groups of people). I have been entrusted with the resulting materials and one of my many project for my sabbatical during the spring term is to have a look at and analyze the results of these four workshops. It might be fodder for an article if something interesting turns up but I think it might to a large extent also be up to my scientific imagination to tease out mening from this material.

In the beginning of November I wrote about my family's plans to move to the US for half a year. This is a topic I have come back to several times during the last two months, but now it's very close in time. We have been on vacation for the better part of a month and one week from now we will have arrived to the US and will be settling in. Much of what I write about during the spring will for sure have a lot to do my location during the spring (University of California, Irvine).

We had a very successful and productive whole-day brainstorming retreat with the sustainability team at our department and one of the outcomes was our new name, MID4S (Media Technology and Interaction Design for Sustainability). In the very last meeting of the term, we built on the results to formulate something like a dozen goals for the 2014 MID4S activities.

torsdag 9 januari 2014

Books I've read 2013

I regularly write blog posts about "books I've read recently", but last year, in February, I also summarised all the non-fiction books that I had read the previous year (2012). In this blog post I will summarise all the books I read during 2013 and top it off with some recommendations of mine.

Just as last year, this isn't actually about the books that I read last year, but rather the books that I wrote about in the blog last year (2013). The difference is kinda big and this blog post actually covers books that I read between September 2012 and August 2013. I more specifically wrote about "books I've read recently" in February, March, April, May, June, August-1, August-2, October and November. Here are the books:

Anders Wijkman and Johan Rockström, "Den stora förnekelsen" [The great denial] (2011)
Magnus Redin, "När resurser sinar" [When resources dry up] (2010)
James Beniger, "The control revolution: Technological and economic origins of the information society" (1986)
Joseph Tainter, "The collapse of complex societies" (1988)

Charles Tilly and Lesley Wood, "Social movements 1768-2008" (2nd edition, 2009)
Donatella Della Porta and Mario Diani, "Social movements: An introduction" (2nd edition, 2006)
Jennifer Earl and Katrina Kimport, "Digitally enabled social change: Activism in the internet age" (2011)
T.L. Taylor, "Raising the stakes: E-sports and the professionalization of computer games" (2012)

KTH Media Technology 5th year students, "The Future of Magazines" (2012) - The book we printed with the students' final reports in my course The Future of Media
Erik Mattsson and Anna Jöborn, "Möteskokboken 1: Grunden för att skapa effektiva möten" [The meeting cookbook: The foundation for creating effective meetings".
Erik Mattsson and Anna Jöborn, "Möteskokboken 2: Metoder för att skapa effektiva möten" [The meeting cookbook: Methods for creating effective meetings".
Jude Carroll and Carl-Michael Zetterling, "Hjälp studenter att undvika plagiering/Guiding students away from plagiarism" (2009)
Mikael Eriksson and Joakim Lilliesköld, "Handbok för mindre projekt" [Handbook for small projects] (2004)

Theodore Roszak, "The making of a counterculture: Reflections on the technocratic society and its youthful opposition" (1969)
Stephen Bloom, "Postville: A clash of cultures in heartland America" (2000)
Henrik Berggren and Lars Trädgårdh, "Är svensken människa? Gemenskap och oberoende i det moderna Sverige" [Is the Swede a human being? Community and independence in modern Sweden] (2006)

Rebecca Solnit, "A paradise built in hell: On the extraordinary communities that arise in disaster" (2009)
Richard Mitchell Jr, "Dancing at armageddon: Survivalism and chaos in modern times" (2002)
Randall Collins and Michael Makowsky, "The discover of society" (6th edition, 1998)

Michael Lewis, "Boomerang: The biggest bust" (2011)
Andreas Cervenka, "Vad är pengar? Allt du velat veta om världsekonomin men inte vågat fråga om" (2012)
Carolina Neurath, "Den stora bankhärvan: Finansparet Hagströmer och Qvibergs uppgång och fall" (2011)

Katherine Boo, "Behind the beautiful forevers: Life, death and hope in a Mumbai slum" (2012)
Naomi Klein, "Chockdoktrinen: Katastrofkapitalismens genombrott" (2007)
Formas [The Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning], "Spelet om staden" (2005)

Richard Heinberg, "Peak everything: Waking up to the century of declines" (2007)
John Michael Greer, "The wealth of nature: Economics as if survival mattered" (2011)
Chris Martenson, "The crash course: The unsustainable future of our economy, energy and environment" (2011)
Richard Heinberg, "The end of growth: Adapting to our new economic reality" (2011)

Herman Daly, "Beyond growth: The economics of sustainable development" (1996).
Anders Gullberg, Mattias Höjer and Ronny Pettersson (eds.), "Bilder av framtidsstaden: Tid och rum för hållbar utveckling" (2007)
Karl Henrik Dreborg, "Scenarios and structural uncertainty: Explorations in the field of sustainable transport". Ph.D thesis. (2007)

My recommendations for best buys (a combination of quality and price) are:
- Berggren & Trädgårdh, "Är svensken människa?" (51 SEK)
- Lewis, "Boomerang" (76 SEK)
- Bloom, "Postville" (104 SEK)
- Boo, "Behind the beautiful forevers" (104 SEK)
- Solnit, "A paradise built in hell" (116 SEK)
- Greer, "The wealth of nature" (125 SEK)
- Mitchell Jr, "Dancing at armageddon" (196 SEK)

Have you read any of these books? If so, feel free to comment!

söndag 5 januari 2014

My new year's promises for 2014

Last year I made two academic/work-related new year's promises, albeit a couple of months late (in the beginning of March). In this blog post, I will first follow up on last year's promises and then make some new promises for 2014.

The first promise for 2013 was to clean out my room. I specifically promised to spend 30 minutes each day sorting through piles of paper to either organise or clean out stuff, but I also realised I would not be able to do it every day and my more pragmatic aim was to do it (at least) three day per week.

The second promise for 2013 was to read more scientific articles. I specifically aimed for 50 pages or mixed academic articles per week (200 pages per month), but only during the spring term (Jan - June) since I have a lot of teaching during the autumn term.

How did I fare with those promises? The answer would be "not so good" with the first promise and "pretty darn ok" with the second. My room is still a mess. Already when I made my promise, I realised that 90 minutes per week might not be enough to get my room in shape and I wrote that "if necessary, I might consider making the very same promise also next year". But I won't - although sorely needed. I won't be in Sweden during the first half of the year and I have my usual heavy autumn teaching load when I come back so it's not really practically doable this year.

So why did I fail? Well, I don't exactly remember any longer why I didn't manage to get more done during the spring, but I know for a fact that I have been very very busy during the autumn. On top of a heavy teaching load, I have myself been a student in the course "Research supervision", and, I have also spent a lot of time planning and preparing for my family's extended visit abroad during the first half of 2014. I have been pressed for time during a major part of the autumn and liberating an hour or two each week to fix my room hasn't even been near the top of my list of priorities.

As for reading articles, I have written blog posts about the articles I read in January, February and March. As to April, May and June, I actually have read almost as much as I aimed for, but I "haven't had time" written blog posts about it.

So, my first new year's promise for 2014 is to (again) aim for reading 200 pages of academic articles per month during January - June this year and to write about it in the ongoing series of "Articles I have read lately" here on the blog. This includes working off the backlog consisting of the three yet-unwritten blog posts where I list the stuff I ready in April - June 2013.

I won't promise to continue to read academic books at my current pace (i.e. at least 150 pages per week). That promise would be silly as it is second nature to steadily read academic books at this point, but my second new year's promise is to work of the backlog of unwritten blog posts about "Books I have read lately" and to also keep up and write new blog posts about all the new books I will read during 2014. Last time I wrote about "Books I've read recently" (in November), the blog post actually treated books that I read back in May and June (!). I have read quite a large number of books since then and expect to read books at a continued fast pace when I'm on a sabbatical during the spring. My second promise is thus to catch up with writing about the books that I'm reading.

My third new year's promise is to husband the time on my sabbatical and use it effectively. I don't know exactly how to operationalise this promise but I have two slightly fuzzy ideas I'm working with. The first is simply to accomplish as much as possible of that which has been taken down on my academic to-do list for the spring. I can perhaps use the list to keep my priorities clear and work on at least two different "projects" on that list each month? The second take on "using my time effectively" overlaps with the first and would just be to write a large number of academic papers during 2014. I wrote half a dozen papers during 2013 and my goal is to write more papers and to get them published in more academically prestigious venues than last year's papers were.

My fourth and last new year's promise is to maximise the use of services for "collaborative consumption" during our six-month long stay in the US. We'll try to buy as little new stuff as possible since we will anyway have to leave most of it behind. I will instead explore yard sales, craigslist, freecycle, car sharing services and everything else under the sun that would allow me to participate in a collaborative, low-consumption, low-impact lifestyle during our stay in the US. I also, partly for research reasons, want to bolster my experiences and insights into this area of the economy! We have already agreed to buy a 10-year old car from one of the neighbours and we'll sell it back to them for half the price when we leave the US six months later. It's a great deal both for us and for them as long as there are no major mishaps with the car during the six months we will own it.

torsdag 2 januari 2014

2013 blog stats

It's time for the annual self-preoccupied, inwards look at this blog. It's now officially a tradition since I did it last year too :-)   Since then I have also written another sum-up of blog activities when I managed to time blog post number 200 with the third anniversary of the blog (in September). This is blog post number 237.

When I wrote about the blog a year ago, the number of visitors had increased by 40% in 2012 compared to the year before, but that wasn't as impressive as it sounds since I also published almost 40% more blog posts (73 compared to 54). During 2013 I increased the number of blog posts yet another 20% compared to the previous year (to 89) as well as the number of visitors. I had, in fact, 60% more visitors during 2013 compared to 2012:

I think it's pretty incredible that since the blog was started 3.5 years ago almost half (47.8%) of all visits happened in 2013. That might to some extent be an effect of Facebook - I nowadays usually write a short status update on Facebook and leave a link to the most recent blog post.

Two reasons I managed to post 89 blog posts during 2013 was increased blog discipline plus the fact that I had a drive, a "blog week" in the beginning of November when I published a new blog post every day for seven days in a row. That counteracted the fact that I had been very busy for a couple of months before that and had a big backlog of stuff to write about. In last year's blog summary I wrote that:

"Of the 147 published blog posts this far:
- 8 blog posts (5%) have been read 200 times or more
- 15 blog posts (10%) have been read 100-200 times
- 99 blog posta (67%) have been read 26-99 times
- 25 blog posts (17%) have been read less than 25 times"

I have painstakingly gone through the whole history of the blog again and the corresponding numbers right now are that of the 236 blog posts that have been published at this point in time:

- 30 blog posts (13%) have been read 200 times or more
- 74 blog posts (31%) have been read 100-200 times
- 119 blog posts (50%) have been read 26-99 times
- 13 blog posts (6%) have been read 25 times or less

The improved stats are due both to new (2013) posts in general being read more often that earlier blog posts and because people drop by to read older, pre-2013 blog posts. Of the 147 blog posts that had been published in 2012 or earlier (above), no less than 13 blog posts have "graduated" from the least read group and 26 have graduated from the second least read group of blog posts. Of the "old" (pre-2013) blog posts, the number of blog posts that have been read 200+ times have gone up from 8 to 17 and this group has furthermore been joined by 13 new (2013) blog posts that have entered the most-read group with 200+ page views. The ten most-read blog posts in the history of the blog are currently:

Blog purpose and history (Sept 2010, 3810 times)
On students' cognitive inability (March 2013, 1456 times - NEW!)
Can a student fail at a Swedish university? (March 2011, 1020 times)
ICT society scenarios & the future of work (June 2013, 604 times - NEW!)
EIT ICT Labs (March 2012, 490 times)
Mobile application design & development (March 2011, 487 times)
World championship in programming (Oct 2011, 461 times)
Social media, modernity and superstition (Nov 2011, 424 times - NEW!)
Cohero - playing games at work (May 2013, 398 times - NEW!)

I notice that four of the blog posts above are new to the list (I for some reason only had a top 9 list last year). Last year the cut-off limit to make it to the top 9 list was 198 page views. That very last blog post to make it to last year's list has since then garnered more than 200 additional page views. Some blog post are (apparently eminently searchable and continue to direct new visitors to the blog.

One conclusion is (thus) that there is quite a lot of inertia. Older texts that were popular "back then" continue to get new readers. Newer texts (6 months old or less) have on the other hand not had the time to get up to speed. In notice that all three blog posts that were published in 2013 and that made it to the list above were published during the first half of the year, in March, May and June.

All the curves are pointing up. This is ironic since I personally believe we are soon to wake up to the fact that this is the century not of (continued) exponential growth, but rather of peaks and declines. If that would sink in, I guess it would just make my blog more, rather than less popular in the short run.

The only complaint I have is that you guys never comment on anything any longer. Of the 90 blog posts that were published in 2013, only 10 have had people commenting on them and only one (1) person has commented on a single blog post during the second half of the year.