tisdag 29 november 2016

The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency visits CESC


We (CESC) organized a full-day dog-and-pony show for the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency  ("Naturvårdsverket") recently. (It in fact happened the better part of two weeks ago but I've been too busy to write about it until now.) The Environmental Protection Agency were interested in CESC's activities and had gotten in touch with us and we welcomed them by putting together a one-day program for their visit (together with OpenLab who held a practical workshop about ideation). It was more specifically their department for "analysis and research" that came to visit as part of their internal "training/further education". The department for analysis and research "is responsible for maintaining an overview of the status of the environment and the progress being made in efforts relating to the environment. It is also responsible for coordinating environmental research and environmental monitoring."

The backbone of the activities during the day was (again) a "ConverStation" exercise. I wrote about ConverStations recently so I am not going to explain it again and there is also some more (basic) information here (including an instruction video). I do have to say that the ConverStation format really shone in this setting though with 7 tables/topics and around 5 guests per session. There were in fact so many guests (70 or 80) that we had to have a morning and an afternoon session. Half the guests chose between seven ConverStation presentation (they could choose three each) while the other half attended the OpenLab thingy, before they switched. That means that some brave colleagues of mine had no less than six ConverStation presentations that day and I can easily understand why some were exhausted by the end of the day. These were the presentations that were held:

Full-day presentations:
- Tina Ringenson & Mattias Höjer: Planning the smart city to decrease environmental impacts. Lessons learned from six cities
- Miriam Rivera: Is the sharing economy sustainable?
- Elina Eriksson & Daniel Pargman: ICT and the UN Sustainable Development Goals
- Dag Lunden (Telia) & Jens Malmodin (Ericsson): Energy and carbon emissions from the Swedish ICT, telecom and media sectors 1990-2015 and beyond.
- Göran Finnveden: Beyond GDPScenarios for sustainable societies

Half-day presentations:
- Åsa Svenfelt & Yevgeniya Arushanyan: Second order environmental effects: what are they and how can they be assessed?
- Cecilia Katzeff: The EcoPanel, an eco-feedback visualization
- Mario Romero: Mixed reality Stockholm
- Jonas Åkerman: Sustainable Accessibility and Mobility Services

There was even a replacement topic should one or more presenters turn ill (now that's advance planning!):
- Mattias Höjer: Methane Maps – sensing gas leaks through google street-view

Me and my colleague Elina manned a ConverStation and talked about "ICT and the UN Sustainable Development Goals" i.e. the same topic we organized a workshop on at the NordiCHI conference a month ago. Elina took the morning session (while I was teaching) and then handed over her (physical, printed) slides to me before leaving.

It turns out The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency were really happy about their visit and I think it led to many new contacts between my colleagues and our visitors. The KTH online magazine Campi wrote a text about their visit (in Swedish); "Environmental researchers inspired the Environmental Protection Agency". Closer to home, two really cool things came out of this event:

1. The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency are the "guardians" of  Sweden’s 16 environmental quality objectives. These objectives were adopted by the Swedish Parliament in 1999 and they constitute “a promise to future generations of clean air, a healthy living environment, and rich opportunities to enjoy nature”. The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency was earlier this year asked to go through and map Sweden's 16 environmental quality objectives to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals and The Very Person who did this (just this past summer) came to listen to my presentation in the afternoon. His name is Hans Wradhe and that's an excellent contact to have when (not if) we need to find out more about the outcome of this work of his.

2. Elina talked to Marie Denward both before and during the event. Marie is an acquaintance of ours who has recently started to work at the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and a several things have already come out of this; two master's thesis proposals (written in Swedish) as well as current discussions about a larger task that our students can work with in our upcoming master's level course "Sustainable ICT in Practice". The course will be given for the first time ever in the beginning of next year so we are in a hurry to plan the course. The possibility to being able to weave in a task for/together with the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency is very exciting.

söndag 27 november 2016

Do engineering students approach their studies strategically? (dissertation)


One week ago my colleague, Maria Svedin, defended her ph.d. thesis, "Do excellent engineers approach their studies strategically?: A quantitative study of students' approaches to learning in computer science education" (available here).

Maria was my next door neighbor until earlier this year when I moved from the sixth to the fifth floor. We are both at the same department (Media Technology and Interaction Design - MID) but we do not belong to the same "team"( I belong to MID4Sustainability - MID4S) and the reason I write about her thesis is because I was the chairman for the dissertation ceremony - for the first time in my life.

Parts of the procedure of presenting/defending a ph.d. thesis is scripted and other parts are very free. It is specified that the faculty opponent should query and discuss the thesis with the respondent (the ph.d. student), but the actual contents of that discussion is naturally left open. Still, I was the guardian and the master of the scripted parts - making sure everybody understood their parts in the ceremony and that things moved along the way the were supposed to.

The most curious part of my instructions was a sentence where it stated that my responsibility was to make sure the dissertation was carried through "in the way it was supposed to" ["genomförs så som avsetts"]. The instructions also left a lot of power to me so it could in fact be possible to claim that whatever way I saw fit to carry through the dissertation was - due to the powers that had been vested in me - the way it was supposed to be carried through.

In practice I did very little that differed from other dissertations I have attended. One thing did however differ. One of the studies/articles included in the thesis discussed the results of making the contents of one course "gender-neutral". Due to media attention, that study generated almost-predictable "excited" online discussions where people who were clueless (e.g. had not read the study) still had a lot of opinions about issues pertaining to gender. There was a slight worry that someone would turn up at the dissertation and make a mess so I, as chairman, early on emphasize what the ceremony looked like, what roles different persons had (my role as chairman and the roles of the respondent, the opponent and of the faculty committee) and at what point the general audience was allowed ask questions (i.e. late in the ceremony). Nothing of that sort happened though but it's better to be prepared than to be taken by surprise.

Maria has had no less than four advisors and her main advisor has been my colleague Olle Bälter. The other three advisors are Stefan Hrastinski, Martha Cleveland-Innes and Johan Thorbiörnson. The opponent was Arnold Pears (Department of Information Technology, Uppsala University) and the grading committee consisted of Tomas Jungert, (Department of Psychology, Lund University), Päivi Kinnunen (Educational specialist, Aalto University) and Aletta Nylén (Department of Information Technology, Uppsala University). Here's the abstract to Maria's thesis:

This thesis is about students’ approaches to learning (SAL) in computer science education. Since the initial development of SAL instruments and inventories in the 70’s, they have been used as a means to understand students’ approaches to learning better, as well as to measure and predict academic achievement (such as retention, grades and credits taken) and other correlating factors. It is an instrument to measure a student’s study strategies – not how “good” a student is.

A Swedish short version of Approaches and Study Skills Inventory for Students (ASSIST) was used to gather information on whether we, through context and content, encouraged sustainable study behaviour among our students. ASSIST was used in two distinct situations: 1) Evaluation and evolvement of an online programming course design, and 2) Engineering education in media technology and computer science in a campus environment where approaches to learning has been evaluated and studied over time during the five year long programmes. Repeated measurements have been analysed against factors predicting academic achievement, and have been evaluated on a cohort level (not individual) in order to clarify patterns rather than individual characteristics.

Significant for both projects was that a surface approach to learning correlated negatively with retention. Students who adopted a combination of deep and strategic approach to learning performed better in terms of grades, ECTS credits completed and perceived value of the education. As part of developmental tools it can be beneficial to use ASSIST at a group level in order to see what kind of approach a course design or a programme supports among the students.

Keywords: Approaches to learning, computer science engineering education, Computing education research, online learning

fredag 25 november 2016

Daniel Sapiens (personal)


I've changed my name. I've always only been "Daniel Pargman". It has not been a great source of concern for me, at least not for a couple of decades, but I did suffer some mild phantom pains during my childhood due to the fact that I didn't even have a measly second name (not to mention having a third). I was slightly jealous and it definitely felt like everybody else had at least two names.

My brother had a children's book about "Tiger Truls" and he want my second name to be Truls when I was born - but my parents vetoed it. Truls is apparently an old viking name (harking back to the name of the god Thor). Partly to compensate for my own lack of additional names, my kids each have three names...

So I applied to change my name on a whim and asked to add another name at the end of the summer. I can't really remember my train of thoughts but it had something to do with distinguishing myself from other Daniels and also about distinguishing myself from future androids and robots (or making sure the aliens will really know I'm human when they come) so I applied for adding "Sapiens" to my name. Daniel Sapiens Pargman. Why settle for a new name instead of forming a new species? I told my wife I wanted to add another name and she supported it - but her suggestion was "Valentino". I believer that I did not, at the time, tell her I had already submitted my application. When I told her, she at first didn't believe me, laughed and thought I was joking. As it happens, I got the letter the better part of two months ago but it was very nondescript and I must have missed it when I paid the bills last month so I only saw it a few days ago.

Sapiens means "wise". I guess this also means I have to read the hugely popular book "Sapiens: A brief history of humankind" that Yuval Noah Hariri has written about me. Also, my new name shouldn't be pronounced as two distinct and separate words but rather the same way you pronounce "Homo sapiens", i.e. as if you almost treat it as one single word; homosapiens. So that's danielsapiens to you - but I don't expect to actually be called anything but "Daniel" except at special occasions (haven't figured out which yet).

The one question I ponder right now is how to use my name professionally. The most pressing question is if should continue to author scientific papers as "Daniel Pargman" (safe), as "Daniel S. Pargman" (nondescript) or as "Daniel Sapiens Pargman" (out there). What I wonder is if scientific search engines (e.g. Google Scholar) will fail to understand that "Daniel Pargman" and "Daniel Sapiens Pargman" is one and the same author. It might be similar to the challenge that (mostly) women face when they marry and take the name of their husband, but then again it might not. I have, after all, not changed my family name but rather only added another name to my surname. Still, could this create "complications" with attribution and recognition? If anybody has any ideas or know the answer, do drop me a line - for example by writing a comment to this blog post.

PS. I just became aware of the first task-and-expense that follows from having changed my name. I have to upgrade (renew) my driver's license so that it reflects my change of names. A small cost (20 USD) and I also have to get a photo and fill out some paperwork.

torsdag 17 november 2016

Homo colussus' energy slaves (paper)

I have recently written about five papers I have submitted to the conference "Energy and Society" (#1#2#3#4#5), but I in fact also submitted a sixth paper to the conference. This is the sixth and last paper submitted and this is also the one paper (abstract) I have written all by myself, even though it builds on the same project idea that recently generated an abstract that Jerry Määttä and me submitted to the academic track at the upcoming (August 2017) 75th World Science Fiction Convention.

The paper that Jerry and me wrote ("Estranging Energy: Teaching Abstract Concepts through Making Strange") is more theoretical and it discusses the "hows" and the "whys" of using images and metaphors to explain abstract concepts for teaching purposes. This paper instead cuts to the chase and presents and delves into the "hows" and the "whys" of the two metaphors in themselves, e.g. what is an "Energy Slaves" and how big is each "Homo Colossus"?

Here's the background: I have used the concept of "Energy Slaves" in my graduate course about ICT and Sustainability for several year. I know that a concept that include the S-word can be perceived as controversial (especially in an American context), but I find it less problematic in Sweden and it's a really useful way to explain how much energy we - as individuals living in an affluent society - use, as well as the blessings that (fossil) energy (sources) have brought humanity in terms of sheer power. It's possible to substitute "energy slaves" for "horsepower" at a rate of 10-to-1 if the concept is not to your liking.

This past spring I discovered William Catton's idea that each of us is a "Homo Colossus". I read about it in a book chapter of his from 2012 and also searched backwards to 30-year old articles of his where he first formulated and developed the concept. I immediately fell in love with it and later, after having turned it inside out, decided to also use it in our education. The two terms can be related to each other and exploring and figuring out their deep meaning as well as how the fit together is the name of the game of this paper.

Title: Homo colossus’ energy slaves 

Author: Daniel Pargman

Keywords: estrangement, defamiliarization, energy slaves, homo colossus

AbstractFossil fuels account for over 80% of mankind's primary energy supply. This is problematic for several reasons (climate change etc.) and we thus urgently need to phase them out. But how do we convince people in more affluent countries that much will have to change, perhaps including cherished aspects of their taken-for-granted lifestyles? How do we show that what we have come to perceive as “normal” in fact is anything but, that we use extravagant amounts of energy and that this eventually - and perhaps sooner rather than later - must come to an end?

We propose using concepts from literature and Science Fiction studies to help free people from the complacency that restricts our imagination as routines guide us through our everyday lives. Terms such as Shklovsky’s (1917) “ostranenie” (estrangement), Brecht’s “Verfremdung” (alienation) and “defamiliarization” (Bell, Blythe and Sengers 2005) can help us make that which is invisible visible.

We specifically propose the use of two strong concepts to help us visualize our extravagant use of energy, namely the concept of “energy slaves” (Nikiforuk 2014) and the idea that each of us is a “homo colossus” (Catton 1986, 1987). Each of us would be colossal if our extrasomatic use of energy - which is many times larger than the energy we acquire from the food we eat - instead was imagined fueling a creature that physically ingests and metabolises the same amounts of energy we use in our daily lives (heating our homes, driving our cars, flying on vacation trips etc.).

This paper illustrates how even the poorest of us nowadays have an oversized ecological footprint, but how the richest 1% or 10% on Earth are creatures of mind-boggling proportions. This paper is thus primarily a pedagogical contribution that frames mankind’s energy use in a historical and interspecies perspective.

onsdag 16 november 2016

The future of computer games * 11 (course)

I should probably have written about our Future of Media course and this year's theme "The Future of Computer Games"/"Computer Games of the Future" some time ago. Our students were divided into project groups more than a month ago based on a nifty if slightly complicated system that takes students' preferences into account but that at the same time is not ruled by and can not (easily or at all) be "gamed" by them.

Last week we had our "mid-crit", a practice we have adopted from architecture educations and where students pitch their ideas and get feedback about halfway into their project. Here are part of the instructions for the students:

At the mid-crit, you should [...] present:

- Your group's fundamental ideas, concepts, logic, business models, scenarios, vision etc.

- Describe work you have done in the group to support your ideas, concepts, vision (etc.) in terms of reading literature, collecting materials (or planning to do so) etc.

- Please also say a few worlds about your ideas for a "design representation" that demos/visualizes your concept and that you will use during the final presentation (see further the course PM) 

Do note that the emphasis is on the soundness of your concept and your ideas. A successful presentation and a benign reception can be regarded as a go-ahead to continue your work on the path you have (already) taken. Another alternative is of course that you get feedback that encourages you to veer some from the direction you are heading in (ranging from timid suggestions and fun ideas to forceful "recommendations" that you most certainly should take into account after the mid-crit).

After the mid-crit, project groups have to start their work on various deliverables within the course. One deliverable is a public presentation in front of a large audience on December 16 at 13-16 - Welcome! (More information to follow - here!)

As of a months ago we have 11 different project groups and I list all of these projects below in no particular order:

Project groups:

------------ Gaming culture (now: Virtual Companion - VC) ------------

People will play more games and become attached to gaming characters. Based on mixed reality technologies, you will have your favorite gaming character by your side to express yourself and your passion for gaming.

Keywords: virtual companion, gaming culture, companionship, cosplay, fandom

------------ Games and ads (now: ioco) ------------

The future of games and ads is “ioco”; effective, target-oriented Ad displays through hologram-like, branded 3D projections around the city. The installments displays individualized, customer-specific ads that cater to the user's current needs.

Keywords: 3D projections, branded advertisement, interactive games, geolocated marketing, discount

------------ Gamification in everyday life (now: Kitchen Kombat) ------------

Kitchen Kombat is gamification of cooking. It encourages users to have fun while learning how to become better at cooking by introducing game elements such as game modes (task completion and multiplayer competition), augmented reality and audio instructions, instant feedback, experience points for unlocking new features and ranking.

Keywords: gamification, kitchen, combat, cooking, socializing

------------ Pervasive games (now: Magic Run) ------------

Run around in the most wonderful place that you can imagine: the real world. It just requires a little magic to turn it into a place full of miracles that you can explore on your favorite running routes. Turn your exercise into an adventure where you jump to reach floating stars, duck to avoid lava balls, stomp evil plants into the ground and where you run as fast as you can to catch the white rabbit.

Keywords: pervasive games, smart street sports, exergame, fitness, augmented reality

------------ E-sports broadcasting (now: HoloSport) ------------

Use wearable glasses/lenses to create a mixed reality version of the e-sports game right on the table in front of you. Watch the action from above or move around the table to change your perspective and watch the game from different angles. HoloSport will change the way people watch eSport and help spread eSport as entertainment.

Keywords: mixed reality, eSport, entertainment, social

------------ Games and learning (now: MOSYS) ------------

MOSYS bridges the gap between governmental institutions and first-person shooters. Through the integration of a moral systems into first-person shooters, MOSYS teaches behaviors beyond the killing of enemies.

Keywords: moral systems, prosocial, impact learning, educational games

------------ Storytelling and game writing (now: Omnius) ------------

Adaptive gameplay generates game elements such as weather, foes and entire planets based on the player’s choices. The Omnius narrative AI system leverages the interactivity of the game medium to make for a more compelling, personalized and unique narratives. Game writers using Omnius focus on broader-scope narrative such as world building and character development.

Keywords: artificial intelligence, personalized, emerging narrative, software, framework

------------ Movement-based games (now: ME Gaming) ------------

The entire body will be involved in future movement based games. Sensors, holograms and virtual reality technologies will cost less and exist in every home. Advanced technology scans and reacts on your body's every movement. Our future dance game offers a game experience that is immersive and interactive and can teach you to dance or to battle your friends no matter what level you are on.

Keywords: movement, dancing, gaming, sensors, hologram, drones

------------ Indie games (now: Tipi Studios) ------------

Tipi Studios is a fictional future indie game studio in a tough marketplace and where it is difficult to stand out from the crowd, reach an audience while simultaneously keeping the studio afloat. By visiting Tipi Studios you'll learn how this future indie game studio deals with marketing, financing, time management in successful ways.

Keywords: indie game, financially sustainable development

------------ Mixed reality boardgames (now: Uniboard) ------------

Uniboard is an all-in-one game board which includes a light and touch-sensitive screen, think bendable-screen playing cards, tangible digital dice and holographic figurines. Uniboard can save, resume and share the current game state effortlessly and can host innumerable games through a game store. Uniboard will revolutionize the way we play board games together.

Keywords: universal boardscreen, light sensitive surface, holographic technologies, game master assistant, togetherness

------------ Accurate-sensing games (now: SenseX) ------------

Accurate and efficient digital sensors will help create a market for social sensor-based games. Team adventure games like Laserdome or Escape room are popular after work and birthdays activities and such venues will provide a wide variety of sensor equipment, enabling exciting team adventure games that utilize heart rate monitors, electrodermal activity sensors, accelerometers and indoor positioning systems.

Keywords: social sensor-based games, collaborative gaming, body sensors, augmented reality, computer moderation.

tisdag 15 november 2016

Coalworld: Envisioning a world with half the oil (paper)


I have recently written about four papers I have submitted to the conference "Energy and Society" (#1#2#3#4), but I in fact also submitted a fifth paper to the conference. This paper is time-wise in-between a journal paper we are already working on (the first, relatively polished 10.000-word draft was submitted at the end of October) and a journal article we are planning to write for another upcoming special issue. The abstract below could almost be the overarching programmatic explanation that sets both of these two (and several future) articles into a larger "story arc" of planned articles on this topic.

At the time that the conference in question will be held (April 2017), our first article will be finished and the first draft of the second article will have been written, so we would prefer just to bring these articles to the conference and hand them out rather than writing yet another, third paper. It is at this point not clear to us exactly what is expected of us should our contribution (the abstract below) be accepted for presentation at the conference.

Anyway, here's the background: No less than six persons are already working on the first paper about "Coalworld" - an alternative world where there ever only was half the oil that existed in our world ("Oilworld"). These six persons are Daniel Pargman, Elina Eriksson, Mikael Höök, Joshua Tanenbaum, Marcel Pufal and Josefin Wangel. Our first draft is under review to a special issue on "Narratives and storytelling in energy and climate change research" (in the journal Energy Research & Social Science). We cross our fingers and hope for the best.

We are right now planning for the second article. The new article might not have exactly the same authors (authorship as well as the order might naturally vary in the various articles). Right now only me and Mikael Höök are working on (planning for) the new project, but more people will probably be brought on later, when it's time to get serious about writing.

Fun fact: We call the project that spans the various articles "Coalworld" and we have decided to make the utmost of it and include the word "Coalworld" in the title of each piece of output from the project.

Coalworld: Envisioning a world with half the oil

Authors: Daniel Pargman and Mikael Höök

Keywordscontrafactual history, peak oil, defamiliarization, infrastructure 

AbstractChanges in energy infrastructure are slow and tough. Sevaried’s law (1970) states that “the chief source of problems is solutions” and energy infrastructure decision taken today are dependent on (sometimes lousy) decisions that were taken decades ago and they will furthermore have (partially unforeseen) implications for decades ahead. Being weighed down by the path-dependence of past decisions does not only restrict our choices today and tomorrow but also limits our thinking and our imagination of possible solutions - including perfectly fine solutions in paths not taken that still might be applicable or at least relevant to take into account in the here-and-now.

In an attempt to widen the boundaries of the probable, the plausible, the possible and the preferable (Amara 1981, Bell & Olick 1989, Bell 2003), to defamiliarize ourselves from the taken-for-granted (Shklovsky 1917, Bell et. al. 2005) and to shatter the shackles that limit our imagination (Tanenbaum et. al. 2016), we are working on a series of articles that are based on a thought experiment. The Coalworld project explores future energy transitions from fossil fuels by placing them in the past. The starting point of the Coalworld project is the simple contrafactual (Ferguson 2000, Todorova 2015) statement “what if there ever only was half the oil in the ground when we started to use it 150 years ago?” E.g. what if there ever only was 1 instead of 2 trillion barrels of oil available in the ground back in the 19th century (Deffeyes 2006, Campbell 2013). This initial geological change then sets a deviation-amplifying spiral (Maruyama 1963, Sproull & Kiesler 1992) into motion and where peak oil would have happened several decades ago. We are exploring probable, plausible and possible consequences of such a scenario in a series of articles about Coalworld.

måndag 14 november 2016

Literary Salon 2.0

I helped organize our first "Literary Salon 2.0" one week ago. It is not an activity at my job but rather something we do in our free/leisure time and that we plan to do once per month. There are four (or probably rather six) organizers and we hope to have around 15 participants/discussants at each such meetings. It's enough for each organizer to invite only one or two persons for the event to be full so don't be sorry if you haven't been invited (I'm sorry about it anyway). What you should do instead is organize your own literary salon. I'll tell you how we did it:

I stated my interest in organizing a Literary Salon (2.0) on Facebook half a year ago. A few people expressed interest in helping out. We met over lunch and discussed what what we wanted to accomplish and how to go about to organize it. We wanted to have monthly meetings and planned for them to start in September. That didn't happen, we had our first meeting in November and will have one more meeting this year and one meeting per month during the spring.

Since I work at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, I meet a lot of researchers in my day job and the idea was to make sure this was not a gathering of only researchers, despite the fact that the majority of the organizers are (happen to be?) researchers.

We now have a deal with a cafe that closes at 18.00. We get to hang there between 18.30 and 21.00 without paying for using their facilities, but, we have also promised that we will bring 15 guests who will eat dinner and have a coffee to "make up for" the effort and the costs of keeping the cafe open for us.

We will have a topic that we will discuss at each meeting, but the topic for the first meeting was to discuss what we wanted to "charge" the concept of a Literary Salon 2.0 with. What are our expectations of a Literary Salon 2.0 and what do we want to get out of such a gathering? What kind of topics will we discuss and who will go about choosing them?

The idea is to choose a topic for each meeting and to prescribe a "text" (could be a podcast or a documentary movie) that we should all read in preparation for the meeting. I chose the text for the first meeting, an excerpt from sociologist Ray Oldenburg's book "The great good place: Café, coffee shops, community centers, beauty parlors, general stores, bars, hangouts, and how they get you through the day" (1989/1997). We read the preface to the second edition and chapter 2, "The character of third places". The term "third place" is Oldenburg's term for a place that is not home (1st place) and not work (2nd place) but a "a home away from home". It's basically a hangout where the regulars meet. I get phantom pains when I read about it due to the fact that I would like to but don't have access to such a place. But nor do the majority of people nowadays. Worse, I don't really know if I would frequent such a place even should there be one just around the corner - I feel like I'm too busy to pass by a joint (or such) every day to check in on the ongoings of "the gang" - but who knows? The closest I've been to being part of the phenomena Oldenburg describes was when I was part of the "in" group at the Student Nation I belonged to at Uppsala University for a couple of years during my undergraduate studies.

When I looked up Oldenburg's book on Amazon just for the purpose of linking to it (above), I noticed that Oldenburg edited a book in 2002 called "Celebrating the Third Place: Inspiring Stories About the "Great Good Places" at the Heart of Our Communities". I did not know about that book until literally just a minute ago.

A literary salon is however different from the hangouts Oldenburg writes about, but I still thought his extensive list of functions and characteristics of third places was interesting and a Literary Salon could potentially - at least partly - fulfill some of those same functions.

The meeting (Literary Salon 2.0) went fine and I do believe that everyone who attended would like to come back to the second Salon in December. We now have a Facebook group but the requirement for joining is to first have attended a F2F meeting at Literary Salon 2.0.

For the second meeting, my suggestion (which is being discussed right now) is that we should discuss the topic "Trump: What now?". I think there is a need to discuss how we should handle the upcoming Trump presidency intellectually as well as psychologically.

söndag 13 november 2016

When good intentions are not enough (article)

I have recently written about three papers I submitted to the conference "Energy and Society" (#1#2, #3), but I in fact also submitted a fourth paper to the conference. This paper is the outcome of a process of repurposing and refocusing a previously presented conference paper for the purpose of broadening and deepening the reasoning in the paper and for extending it into a longer journal paper.

Here's the background: The earlier work in question is my (2016) ICT4S best paper-nominee "Designing for sustainability: Breakthrough or suboptimisation?". The previous paper was based on work by two former bachelor's students of mine and the case used in the paper builds on their work. As the work is now further developed, their contribution becomes a smaller and I instead have a new co-author, Oliver Bates. I have in fact already written a blog post about the curious way in which he was "recruited" as a co-author of this new, emerging paper. Oliver wrote an excellent review of the ICT4S article and I sent out overtures to this (to me, at the time) unknown reviewer some time after the conference was held.

This is, with the exception of organizing a workshop together, the first time me and Oliver work together and I very much look forward to it! He has done work on displays and in his review he suggested the work should be extended to public displays. I had not really thought about this (e.g. the use of non-private displays), but it is fortunately (and not so coincidentally) something that Oliver knows some about.

I met Oliver two weeks ago at the NordiCHI conference and we reserved an extended (two-hour) lunch to discuss and hash out the basic arguments we will put forward in the upcoming article (should it be accepted to the conference). Later (kind of like one day before the deadline on November 4) we hashed out the 300-word abstract below.

When good intentions are not enough: How energy-stingy screen technologies can lead to higher consumption

Authors: Daniel Pargman and Oliver Bates

Keywords: Screen technologies, Sustainability Suboptimisation, Systems thinking

AbstractDigital screens and displays are nowadays everywhere. From small screens in our smartphones and cars to huge billboard style displays whose size is measured in square meters. For people living in affluent countries screens and displays are in our hands, at our bus stops, exist in multitudes in our homes and are likely to be within arms reach at this very moment.

New OLED screens have the potential to save significant amounts of energy compared to their LED predecessors and much more compared to the older CRT and LCD screens. Whilst OLED screens harbour the promise of significant energy savings, how does this play out if we widen the system boundaries? How do we realise and how do we position the promised energy savings of the screens when they are but one component of a larger ecology of interlinked technical system (devices, infrastructure, data traffic etc.) and complex manufacturing processes? New technologies furthermore often come with various caveats. For OLED displays, energy savings are realised primarily when black is displayed on the screen but most webpages (and word processors etc.) use white as background and the potential savings can then in fact turn into losses.

We argue that when considering the environmental impact of innovative, energy-saving ICTs, the allure is to replace old devices at an accelerated pace. However, the energy savings alone do not come anyway near offsetting the energy cost of manufacturing these new devices.Just as “perfect can be the enemy of good”, we here argue that sometimes innovation (and marketing) can be the enemy of good enough. Finally and taking the rapid proliferation of screens into account, we cannot but ask if all the current uses of screens really make sense (e.g. restaurant menus, displaying static or slow changing content)?

lördag 12 november 2016

Critical perspectives in sustainability research (seminar)


This past week I went to a half-day event, the "Stockholm PhD. Student Dialogue on Sustainability" at the Stockholm School of Economics (SSE). I thought it was an event that SSE had organized all by themselves but it turned out that it was done in conjunction with my university (KTH) and it also turned out this was not the first but rather the fourth time such a dialogue was organized. 

The actual reason I went was due to this year's theme and the (as it turned out) excellent speakers. The theme for the event was "Critical perspectives in sustainability research: The Sustainable Development Goals".

The event was opened up by Lars Strannegård, the SSE president, and that was a nice touch. He could only stay for a short while and the academic host of the event was Susanne Sweet who is an Associate Professor and the "platform leader" for MISUM (Mistra Center for Sustainable Markets). While it's always nice to listen to Susanne, the event for me was the two keynote speakers. Each was very good and they were terrific together, as a combo. 

The first speaker, Caroline Åberg works for the UN/UNDP (the United Nations Development Programme) where she is the UNDP representative for Sweden. Her talk was called either "All you ever wanted to know about the SDG:s" (title in the program) or "UNDP and the Global Goals for Sustainable Development" (title in her slides). Caroline has a solid background and has worked for the World Bank in Argentina, Latin America, Myanmar and elsewhere and she has worked with the UNDP for the last 12 years. She rattled off a presentation of UNDP and then went right into her fact-filled but also hope-filled talk:

- UNDP is the largest UN entity. Their focus areas are Sustainable Development, democratic governance and peace building, climate and disaster resilience and gender, but, UNDP does not want to limit themselves and regard their mandate as larger than these specific focus ares.
- The Swedish UNDP office communicates the UNDP goals, present at events and festivals, do lectures and seminars, work with education, press and media, develop and entertain digital platforms and are present in social media. They also work with the website "Globala Målen för hållbar utveckling" (http://www.globalamalen.se)
- It is important for UNDP to make sure that politicians and policy makers have access to correct research and data. Surveys show that people consistently have a too negative view of the world. This is bad and UNDP works on trying to disseminate correct data as this is necessary to make correct funding and policy decisions. 
- What then is new with the SDGs (2015-2030) compared to the preceding Millennium Development Goals (MDGs, 2000-2015)? The SDGs are of course in line with UN charter but they are also more comprehensive and inclusive than the MDGs that focused only (or primarily) on social and economic development in poor countries. The MDGs to a higher extent aimed at and calculate on the level of national averages while the SDGs are formulated in such a way that no one (in poor or rich countries alike) should be left behind (i.e. the most vulnerable and the most excluded should also be included).
- Caroline also talked about the UN My World survey (try it - I did!). There is also a companion site where data from 10 million votes are summarized and displayed. It is abundantly clear that social sustainability is prioritized (most popular categories people voted for: good education, better healthcare and better job opportunities) and ecological sustainability less so (least popular category to vote for: action taken on climate change). 
- Important barriers for progress are conflicts (e.g. Syria), shocks of various kinds (health/disease, climate), violent extremism, political instability, a negative gender balance, rising inequalities and people left behind, lack of respect for human rights, lack of political will, lack of available data and lack of funding. There might have been more but this is what I have notes about.
- Key challenges that follow from this are refugee flows (65 millions today), an increasing number of conflicts, climate effects, rising inequality, the fact that half of the global population is under 25 (job creation etc.), urbanization, rise in violent extremism and a lack of data. There might have been more but this is what I have notes about.

I liked Caroline's talk, she showed a couple of very uplifting movies with positive messages but there was still something rubbing me the wrong way. This became apparent to me at the very end when she said we have to "keep the enthusiasm going". This made me think of Barbara Ehrenreich's book "Smile or die: How positive thinking fooled America and the world". I felt there was an undercurrent of forced enthusiasm to Caroline's pep-talk. Yes, there are some positive trends in the world but there are also some very negative trends and it felt to me like Caroline only or at least for the most part emphasized what is good or what is getting better and delivered a for the most part one-sided view of where we are and where we are going.

Caroline did a mini-survey about our own knowledge of trends and also the ph.d. students and researchers in the room had a too negative view of world poverty, life expectancy etc. It was more or less the same questions Anna Rosling Rönnlund had asked as a keynote speaker at the NordiCHI conference a few weeks earlier and I did slam her talk in a previous blog post. I also posed some hard questions for Caroline (see my objections to Rosling Rönnlund two weeks earlier), but I think her answers were good. Two of her answers were:
- We need to have a positive agenda or nothing good will ever happen. And the SDGs are a very good starting point and a support for doing The Right Things.
- Some problems can only be solved at a UN level even if there are various levels at which various problems could be solved (or at least worked on).

The second speaker, Ranjula Bali Swain, is a professor of economy at Södertörn University (and a visiting professor at SSE/MISUM) and her talk was called "The Sustainable Development Conundrum?". After having seen Carolines title ("All you ever wanted to know about the SDG:s) she wittily changed the title of her talk to "All you never wanted to know about the SDG:s". 

Ranjula has a Ph.D. from Uppsala University and has worked a lot with issues of financial inclusion, development finance, micro finance, sustainability and resilience and she has also worked very interdisciplinary with people from government, sociology, mathematics, statistics, hydrology and more. Here are some of the things Ranjula emphasized in her talk:

- Economic growth is not a linear process (that can be collapsed and measured with one scale, e.g. GDP). Economics and economic development is a complex process and there are interactions, tradeoffs and various conflicts between goals, between the local and the global level etc. It is not possible to simplify this complexity and "economic growth" is not as simple as growing the pie. You can grow in different manners and the growth in question can then have different (both positive and negative) impacts on society
- Sustainability is intertemporary. It's about now, but it's also about the future. It's also about different planning horizons. This makes it exceedingly hard. A CEO might work towards the results that will go into the next quarterly report, work on a time horizon of the next few years or on the next two decades. Politicians naturally work with election cycles. These time scales/time horizons might work with some sustainability concerns and goals but not with others. 
- The SDGs are also about different levels; about individuals, companies, states/nations as well as international levels. This makes it hard to work with them. We need to solve problems at the international level (climate change) but we also have to come down to other "lower" levels too.
- Global government institutions can make decisions that affect us and other people but this is today to a high extent left only to markets. But markets don't work everwhere and everytime (ex. environmental degradation). Change is to a high extent driven by incentives at different levels, but there are also things we just have to do (climate change) even if there are no strong incentives in the here and now.
- The 17 SDGs and the many subgoals (targets) are more universal that the MDGs and the intentions are good, but, they are also grossly anthropocentric. They goals are concerned with the development and wellbeing of humans, but less so about all other plants and creatures that we share this planet with. [Let me simplify: it is clear that human wellbeing will be valued higher than species extinction when human vote for what is important (to us) - see the survey above.] But what then about the things we just have to do even if there is no huge and immediate benefit to a lot of people?
- The SDGs will also be a lot harder to track and evaluate compared to the MDGs. It is very possible that you advance on one goal while at the same time taking two steps back on another goal (or in the worst case, as a consequence). It is for example easy to see that socioeconomic growth indicators will often be in conflict with environmental indicators since "no country has managed to grow economically without dirtying their environment".
- Such conclusions are however based on historical data, so it is at least theoretically possible that things could change - nothing is written in stone! But it's not going to happen by itself and definitely not if we continue with Business As Usual (BAU).
- Ranjula also discussed the SDG Index and Dashboard (by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (Jeffrey Sachs) and Bertelsmann Stiftung. The say they have (incomplete) data for 193 nations, and they only made data for 34 OECD countries available in a recent report (which might have been a later/final version of this report: "Preliminary Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Index and Dashboard". Ranjula and her colleagues had dug deeper into the metrics and I believe her point was that it might look a lot better in the report than what it actually is (not the least taking into account that most non-OECD countries will be worse off).

I just loved Ranjula's talk and have already downloaded and printed her latest paper, "The sustainable development oxymoron: quantifying and modelling the incompatibility of sustainable development goals". Here's a short press release about that paper (and here's a link to the paper). Ranjula expressed a more nuanced and considerably more complex view of the SDGs than what I have heard before - about what they are for, what constitutes progress (or "progress") and the conflicts between different goals (as far as I understood primarily based on the conflict between gols for social and ecological sustainability). Nor did Ranjula shy away from raising the issue of population. She said something I have never heard before and that is that an important reason for why Sweden and other Scandinavian countries are doing so well in a lot of different measures of welfare and sustainability is due to the fact that these countries are not densely populated and that the population pressure is low - since population pressure is a huge disruptor on the environment!

Another interesting perspective of Ranjula's was that it's very easy for activists of different stripes (and aren't we all in some way) to choose a specific SDG and highlight the importance of that specific goals. It's easy to say that SDG number X (quality education, gender equality, good health and well-being etc.) is key to all the others, when in fact all of them are important and each of them "is the key" to all the others. That's an important perspective that is easy to forget in the heat of the moment (as we are all routing for our "favorite" SDGs). 

Finally Ranjula also referred to an upcoming paper of hers (Bali Swain and Sjöberg, Nov 2016, SIEPR working paper from Stanford University) about "sustainable preferences" and where the paper's subtitle included the phrase "tension: market's bias against future" which sounds very interesting indeed.

I think the talks were excellent and I made some new friends (contacts) at the event. I jumped both the speakers after their talks and invited them to be part of a panel discussion we are organizing in our course about sustainability on December 12. Ranjula could not come (she's abroad on that day) and I'm still waiting for Caroline's answer. Caroline and Ranjula are in front in the picture below. 

Oh, and the snow chaos in Stockholm was probably a contributing factor to the fact that only 22 out of the 39 who had signed up for the event showed up.


fredag 11 november 2016

Municipal climate and energy advisors: A way forward or a “Mission: Impossible”? (paper)

I recently wrote about two papers I submitted to the conference "Energy and Society" (paper #1paper #2) but I in fact also submitted a third paper to the conference. This paper is an outcome of a research project I have written about before (a long time ago) on the blog, "Improved energy counseling and energy habits by Quantified Self Assisted Advisory".

Here's the background: we find that the Swedish municipal energy and climate advisors are asked to do a lot ("save Sweden", decrease carbon emissions") but that they are not allowed/encouraged to talk about many aspects of our energy-demanding lifestyle like our indirect use of energy (through the choices we make as to the food to eat, our consumption habits, our everyday and vacation travel habits etc.). This puts individual (idealistic) advisors in a difficult position and also decreases the possibilities of the advisors having a big impact on all (energy-demanding and climate-problematic) aspects of our lives and our lifestyles.

It is not totally clear exactly who will write this paper beyond Björn Hedin and me (should it be accepted). Henrik has gotten new tasks at work and might be too busy but Susanna Heyman could possibly join us in writing this paper.

Municipal climate and energy advisors: A way forward or a “Mission: Impossible”? 

Authors: Björn Hedin, Daniel Pargman, Henrik Artman

Keywords: energy advice, energy advisors, indirect energy, municipalities

Abstract: To live sustainably is hard. Advice on relatively trivial actions such as changing light bulbs are readily available, but more complex and more climate related issues such as heating, transportation, food and consumption are trickier, and it is furthermore difficult to know which advice to trust. One way to deal with this complex problem is to consult and get advice from an expert. Many companies offer such services but they run the risk of being perceived as biased by commercial interests.
Sweden has chosen to finance “municipal energy and climate advisors” for providing impartial locally adapted energy and climate advice to individuals. A total of 14 million Euros is provided on a yearly basis to finance this service for a population of 10 million inhabitants. The goals and the activities of the energy advisors are regulated in annual appropriation directives from the Swedish government. However, the interpretation of these directives in several cases come in conflict with the overall goals, and especially the goal to reduce global climate emissions. The advisors are for example prohibited from giving advice about indirect energy use such as food and consumption in general, and the requirement that advisors have to provide impartial advice can lead to them instead giving general and unspecific advice. These are problems that commercial and/or “partial” energy advisors do not have. 

In this paper we examine and problematize such conflicts between goals and regulations by analysing steering documents, regulations, reports, web pages and interviews with energy advisors. Our conclusion is that the municipal energy and climate advisors harbour the potential to serve an important purpose, but that the regulations surrounding them make the possibilities for them to work effectively towards the overall goals a "mission: impossible".

torsdag 10 november 2016

Meeting place master's theses (seminar)


We had the best event but the worst timing ever!

I supervised five master's students who wrote their theses in the intersection of ICT and sustainability this past spring. Three out of five had a research project as their principal. That means the task they worked on for half a year originated in a KTH research project and that they got additional help (to varying degrees) not just from me as an advisor but also from the people who worked in the research project in question. Several students were delayed (one started late) and most presented their theses after rather then before the summer. My previous two blog posts are about the outcomes of two of these theses, e.g. two proposed paper that we have now submitted to the conference "Energy for Society" (paper #1, paper #2). It could very well be the case that at least one and perhaps in fact two additional paper might come out of the remaining three theses!

Most of our students write their master's (as well as their bachelor's) theses during the spring term and they start looking for topics around this time of the year (or earlier). Many students prefer to write their thesis with a company as the principal since they want work experience and perhaps also a crack at a good job in an interesting company.

So this year we decided to up the game and do our best to find master's thesis proposals (in the intersection between ICT, digitalization and sustainability) at companies. Our solution was to invite companies with interests in this area to an After Work event (on Nov 9). I think the idea is ingenious and there are quite a few reasons also for companies to have engineering students do their thesis work with/for them. But many companies don't know exactly what a master's thesis entails, how to put together an attractive offer, at what time of the year to do it as well as various other practical issues.

So we had the great idea to organize an After Work event for companies to tell them some about what our students can do for them and how they should go about to formulate master's thesis proposals that would be interesting and attractive to our students. And that was just the first hour of the After Work, during the second hour we would circulated among the participants and then-and-there helped them formulate great master's theses proposals. And we did it! I think the program for the After Work was brilliant and that we delivered on the promise. There were only two problems with the execution of the event. The first problem was that we had only a limited number of persons/companies signing up, but I didn't think that wasn't a problem - if ten or a dozen persons/companies show up and we manage to convert each into a thesis topic/proposal and we manage to find/recruit students to write their theses at these companies, well, then we would have a really great case both for our students and for other companies come next year.

The second problem was however that several decimeters, perhaps upwards to half a meter of snow fell in the 12 hours preceding the event ("Snowpocalypse" - see great pictures here). Public and private transportation (buses, trams, trains, cars and to some extent even the subway) was crippled, if not paralyzed on this particular day! Many people were snowed-in and could not get to work or home or move in-between different parts of Stockholm. Only half of the people who had declared they would come actually showed up. People from KTH (me, Elina, Hanna, Mattias, Miriam, Tina, Mario, Robin) (barely) outnumbered out external corporate guests.

So, the idea was great but I have concluded that the best way to frame the event this time around is to regard it as a test round. We should analyze what went wrong (and what we could have done better) - beyond the weather - and plan for a better, bigger, bolder, beautiful event next year. Also, it should be organized not in the beginning of November but two or three weeks earlier (mid-October) to get the timing right!


onsdag 9 november 2016

Using low-fi user-centered design methods to overcome barrier to adopting photovoltaics (paper)

I recently wrote a blog post about a paper (abstract) that I submitted to the conference "Energy for Society: 1st International Conference on Energy Research and Social Science". Well, I submitted another abstract to the conference, "Using low-fi user-centered design methods to overcome barrier to adopting photovoltaics", and it was written by Robin Chanapai and me.

Here's the background: I was Robin's advisor when he wrote his master's thesis this past spring. Robin's thesis was presented only a month ago and it's called "Tearing down barriers of photovoltaics with usability design: Winter is coming" (see the thesis abstract below). Robin wrote his thesis within the research project called "Holistic business models and ICT solutions for prosumers" and it involved researchers from Uppsala University and KTH Royal Institute of Technology as well as energy companies and the service design company Transformator.

Something really cool is that it seems the project would pay for Robin's costs for attending the conference should the proposed paper be accepted! Here's the paper abstract

Using low-fi user-centered design methods to overcome barriers to adopting photovoltaics in Sweden

Keywords: photovoltaics, prosumers, user-centered design, interface design

Abstract: Renewable energy sources are important for shifting our energy system in a more sustainable direction. While renewables (mainly hydro) provide upwards to 50% of Sweden’s electricity demand, this could be further improved if private citizens to a higher extent covered their roofs with solar cells and became micro producers of electricity.
While the conditions for successfully harvesting solar energy through solar cells/Photovoltaics (PV) exist in Sweden, the technology has not yet met with much success. A recent study (Eriksson & Enlund 2016) enumerates barriers that discourage or prevent homeowners from investing in PV. Some are difficult to circumvent like the cost of investments or rules and regulations that currently do not encourage such investments. Other problems however seem to stem from sceptical attitudes that are based on a lack of understanding of how PV works and/or of the viability of PV when taking Swedish conditions into account.
While we can strive to overcome such mental barriers through informing or educating homeowners, this alone will not change their behaviors (Owens & Driffill, 2008). In this paper we instead discuss how the use of low-fidelity user-centered design methods and the resulting user interfaces can be utilized to find out more about, and build upon the positive motivations of homeowners’ interest in investing in PV. These methods are widely used in Human-Computer Interaction and adopting these methods in energy research could help bridge the gap between (homeowners’) attitudes and behaviors. We believe that a wider deployment of an information package that is based on our results could in fact lead to an increased interest in installing PV in Sweden.
Beyond reporting on the results of a study, this paper also provides a framework that can be used to achieve similar results in other countries, thereby contributing to a more sustainable future.

---------- Robin's thesis abstract ---------- 

Photovoltaics has so far not seen a huge success in Sweden. Recent studies have shown that some of the reasons could be an experienced lack of understanding of the technology, and a feeling that the lack of energy production during winter when a houses energy consumption is the highest makes photovoltaics uninteresting. The ongoing research project Holistic business models and ICT solutions for prosumers seeks to increase the use of photovoltaics in Sweden, and have created business model concepts in an attempt to break perceived barriers of photovoltaics. My task in this project was to design a tailor made ICT solution with the users’ needs in focus.

A series of interviews were conducted with households interested in photovoltaics to investigate what information is relevant to understand the business model, and create a starting point for the design process. To ensure a high level of usability of the ICT solution, an iterative design process was conducted with user tests between iterations.

This resulted in a low fidelity prototype of a smartphone application, consisting of greyscale mockups. The prototype has as much as possible taken the interviewed households’ wishes into account, while adhering to design principles set for usability design. The interviews and user tests also gave some new insights into the informants’ attitudes towards the business model suggested by the research project, which is discussed at the end of the report.