How Recessions Should Impact Home Ownership

The Seattle Times had an interesting article a week or so ago on how the recession may well change the way that American homes are designed, much like what happened after World War II.  The article, towards the end, acknowledges that sustainable, green housing design (with a variety of associated design criteria) are likely to be adopted for new home construction:

Hudson and McAlester agreed that energy efficiency will be a lasting concern for buyers.

“Homes will be built in a greener and greener manner to reduce long-term utility costs,” McAlester said.

Hudson expects homes to have more energy-monitoring systems and more solar-powered systems to provide electricity and hot water. He expects more use of geothermal heat pumps, which capitalizes on the fact that a few feet below the surface, the ground maintains a stable temperature of 50 to 60 degrees throughout the year.

These heat exchangers use that steady temperature to heat and cool air inside the home. The equipment can cost several times more than an air-to-air heat pump, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, but greater efficiency can mean cheaper energy bills within five to 10 years.

— “Recession May Redesign the American Home“, Elizabeth Razzi, The Seattle Times, January 10, 2009.

Perhaps not shockingly to those who know enough about my background and my beliefs, but my response to this is the following: “Good start, but not good enough.”  There’s a few things I could think of that would help this along:

  • Pass a state law requiring residential construction to meet a minimum standard of energy efficiency. Whether this takes the form of LEED for Home requirements, meeting the 2030 Challenge, require these standards – don’t rely on homebuyers to insist upon them for any reason.  These laws should apply to new construction and remodels, regardless of project size.  There’s nothing particularly odd about considering this for Washington State – we already do this for public buildings.  This is ideally a federal requirement, but this is doubtful.
  • Lock down unintelligent further expansion into undeveloped areas. “How in the world does this help the economy, or, for that matter, provide for new home construction?”, I hear you asking.  The key word here is “unintelligent”.  A recent article in the Seattle Times blasted laws that allow property development in areas designated as floodplains – floodplain development and expansion would certainly cause further issues as the tendency for more severe floods increases.  Increasing population density in city centers, when done properly, can significantly enhance quality of life.  There is no reason why this could not be well-executed.
  • Create incentives for homeowners to purchase existing homes on existing land and renovate using sustainable approaches and lower-impact technology. As I’ve been looking around the real estate market as late, I’ve seen a number of opportunities where homes could be brought up-to-date, lowering their overall upkeep costs.  State or federal incentives to encourage such upgrades, provided that a sufficient number of homeowners are allowed to take advantage of these incentives (my thought would be to not cap the number of participants in any way, shape, or form), could drastically increase the livability of existing properties.
  • Turn the principle of buying a home on its head. It’s not just about a roof over your head, it’s about supporting your health, happiness, and general outlook on life.  One of the best ways to improve these is to invest in environmental changes – including around the home – that make it a friendlier place to live.  Whether this means increasing the amount of daylight coming in to the home, remodeling so that the flow of the space fits your needs, or lowering the cost of energy, utilizing these efficiency gains for both personal happiness and to lower the overhead of home ownerships can be a net benefit.  Shifting the act of home ownership entirely away from assets, credit, and all of the financial burdens that such an act creates and towards supporting one’s own personal goals and endeavors forces a complete rethinking of how we live as a society.

This is a topic I’ve been considering as I think about when I want to consider home ownership, and is doubtlessly a topic that will come up once again.

Winter Quarter Green IT Research Questions

My independent study this quarter focuses on the intersection of sustainability and information management, asking these three questions:

  1. What does it mean to treat information management as a “cradle to cradle” activity? (Another way of putting the same question: how does environmental sustainability impact approaches to information management?)
  2. What metrics provide a comprehensive picture of an organization’s ecological footprint?
  3. How can sustainable actions be visualized?

It is expected that these three questions result in two separate research papers; I will also be writing a book review of one of the three books I picked out for this independent study.

Reflections on Writing

As a writing tutor, I tried to be as honest and straightforward about my assessments of student writing as I could while supporting the art and act of writing and helping writers to see where they had room to improve.  This made me a very polar writing tutor: people either loved sessions with me or they hated it and never returned.  If I got lucky, students who hated it realized that they needed the level of candid feedback that I provided and returned for more sessions with different pieces of work.  If I got extremely lucky, the writers that I absolutely reveled in working with returned time and time again.  That is not to say that I did not enjoy each and every single session I had (there were bad ones, but 90% of them were enjoyable).  But the quality of the writing and the talent of the writer allowed me to engage on a much deeper philosophical level with several students over time, getting past mechanics into more complicated issues like flow, thesis development, voice, and assertiveness.

I have not offered to read many of my classmate’s papers in the MSIM program, partly because it was no longer my job, but partly because my group work and the quality of the writing that resulted from that work discouraged me.  It is not that I am dealing with more English as a World Language speakers (some of whom have a better grasp of the mechanics of English composition than I do!), but that I am left unimpressed by the devotion to the art.  I recognize in many of my classmates the same tendencies that I wrestled with as a writing tutor: an aversion to the skill of written communication in general, a lack of interest in complete development of ideas, and no realization of the power that the written word holds.  Again, I do not imply that these are bad writers — there is no such thing – underdeveloped, perhaps, where skill can be improved, but never bad — only that they seem detached.

The problem is this: the MSIM program is a professional program, and a core competency for professionals is to be able to write.  By this, I do not mean the ability to string words together to make a coherent sentence – it is a much higher level than that.  It is the ability to use words to convince, to argue, to assert, to discuss, and to realize.  I do not demand that they enjoy the act, that they pine for the days when they can pick up the pen or sit down at the keyboard and write.  I do not even demand that they do so frequently (the program does, but I don’t).  Instead, I demand that they respect the process and that they devote themselves to nothing less than the best they can achieve.  Half-hearted is not sufficient.  I prefer no complaints, but I will tolerate those within reason, for not everyone is as interested in writing as I am.  If I am to hear whining the entire quarter about how we have to write a paper, I am unlikely to be interested in working with that individual again, for such reactions are uninspiring and indicative of more than they might think.

This is not a complaint post – far from it.  I am not bemoaning my peers, nor am I taking any stance in particular as to the technical quality of their work.  I have merely realized that my skills in writing have influenced my perception of my peers.  I have also realized that perhaps I have failed at something small but nonetheless significant: it was not simply my job to promote the art and act of writing as a writing tutor, but to carry this effort on.  I owe this in part to Kevin Desouza, associate professor at the Information School, who tirelessly offers on a weekly basis to both his Change Management and Finance classes to read any writing sent his way so long as it is mechanically correct.  His devotion to his students and to supporting them is above and beyond some of the other classes I have taken here.  This is neither good nor bad from a program perspective, but from the perspective of a tutor who has, perhaps, let the art slip, is inspiring nonetheless.

Could Obama Mean Drastic Change for Social Media and Technology in Government?

With our new president-elect being heralded by the TV networks, could this mean a drastic shift in the way that technology is used in government?  We are seeing the end of an era:

Nov. 4, 2008, is a historic day because it marks the end of an economic era, a political era and a generational era all at once.

Economically, it marks the end of the Long Boom, which began in 1983. Politically, it probably marks the end of conservative dominance, which began in 1980. Generationally, it marks the end of baby boomer supremacy, which began in 1968. For the past 16 years, baby boomers, who were formed by the tumult of the 1960s, occupied the White House. By Tuesday night, if the polls are to be believed, a member of a new generation will become president-elect.

So today is not only a pivot, but a confluence of pivots.

— David Brooks, “A Date with Scarcity“, New York Times, November 3, 2008

Could this also mark a new beginning in the realization of technology usage in public government?  Obama’s grassroots campaign coordinated using the Internet, and it would be a significant oversight to lose that element of his work.  From Twitter to Facebook to his own web site, he utilized the tools of the 21st century to mobilize a huge following that pushed him to a landslide.

What if that following demanded accountability through social media?  What if Obama continued to tweet on the issue that he was considering, that mattered to the nation?  What if the grassroots movement he started was applied to the White House web site?  What if the change he promised continued to be a grassroots effort, with him taking the role of a peer who considers all angles, rather than one of Commander in Chief, whose decisions are final?  Obama has recognized the power of my generation – the “Net Generation” or the “Digital Generation”, whatever you choose to call us.  What if he continued to leverage that power?

What change could he achieve then?

An Open Letter to Tim Eyman

The letter below was originally written as a reflection paper for Kevin Desouza’s class, IMT 583 – Finance & Accounting Foundations for Information Professionals.

Mr. Eyman:

It seems, that in this economic climate where people are trying to make life easier for themselves, you are intent upon bringing up initiatives that will only waste our money and time. In fact, your abuse of Washington’s initiative system has been so flagrant that you have been mocked by an initiative that attempted to name you a horse’s ass[3]. Fortunately for you – unfortunately for the citizens of Washington – the Courts struck Initiative 831 down as a mockery of the initiative system[5]. Now we find you at it again with Initiative 985, which has been soundly discounted by none less than the federal government as potentially endangering Washington’s transportation infrastructure, despite your attempts to prove otherwise[1].

So here is my proposal: since you seem so gung-ho about utilizing the initiative system to make the lives of Washington State citizens better (nevermind that you often miss your target and go straight to making it a living hell): why not create an initiative to abolish Washington State’s observation of Daylight Savings Time?

No, bear with me now – this is no better or worse an initiative than you could have dreamed up yourself. Arizona and Hawaii already buck the trend of daylight savings (so much so that Arizona becomes its own time zone when the rest of the country switches to Daylight Savings). Back in 2007, when the United States extended Daylight Savings so that it ended later, the National Geographic had this to say:

A study released last year by the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the change will save less than 1 percent of the country’s annual energy consumption.

Bob Aldrich of the California Energy Commission told National Public Radio that energy needs in the U.S. have changed a lot since the 1970s, when the data supporting the current bill was collected.

"We’ve become much more electronically configured, if you will," he told NPR. In addition to lights, people plug in more computers, televisions, satellite dishes, and other power-hungry electronics than they did 30 years ago[2].

Yup, that’s right – we based the choice, in part, on data from the 1970s! Keep in mind, Daylight Savings Time was a way of helping to standardize railroad schedules, and no federal mandate exists that requires states to observe it[6]. Let’s examine this from a financial perspective, since your initiatives are all about saving citizens money.

Consider for a moment that Washington is widely regarded as an economic gateway to Asian countries. Thus, much of our economy depends on our economic relationships with them. Later in Handwerk’s article, he cites Anthony Concil of the International Air Transport Association:

"When Europe and the U.S. are on different times, connections become less convenient. Right now there is one week of discord between the U.S. and Europe, so it’s sort of at a manageable level," Concil said.

He argued that if the energy bill passed, every year "you might have a monthlong period where you have lousy connections, so from a traveler’s perspective it’s not going to be particularly good."

Airlines may ultimately feel the change where it hurts the most—on the bottom line.

"It’s going to be expensive for airlines," Concil added. "Particularly for U.S. carriers—and they are in a difficult climate right now—it’s a major issue, as well as for carriers traveling to and from the U.S."

In 2006, the State of Indiana required all of its counties to begin observing Daylight Savings Time consistently – previously, it was left up to the counties to determine whether or not to observe Daylight Savings. Researchers from the National Bureau of Economic Research took advantage of this law to study energy consumption changes in the state. In the abstract of their report, they state:

Our main finding is that—contrary to the policy’s intent—DST increases residential electricity demand. Estimates of the overall increase are approximately 1 percent, but we find that the effect is not constant throughout the DST period. DST causes the greatest increase in electricity consumption in the fall, when estimates range between 2 and 4 percent. These findings are consistent with simulation results that point to a tradeoff between reducing demand for lighting and increasing demand for heating and cooling. We estimate a cost of increased electricity bills to Indiana households of $9 million per year. We also estimate social costs of increased pollution emissions that range from $1.7 to $5.5 million per year. Finally, we argue that the effect is likely to be even stronger in other regions of the United States[4].

An abolishment of Daylight Savings would likely have drastic impacts on our energy usage and consumption in the residential sector. Pairing an abolishment of Daylight Savings with a significant push for energy conservation and for companies to manufacture highly energy-efficient products could only help the state.

So, Mr. Eyman, I implore you – prepare our state for the future once again and throw your weight behind creating this initiative. Like many other initiatives that you have fathered, you can expect a good deal of healthy debate of the pros and cons of such an initiative; unlike your other initiatives, however, no matter what the result, you will have encouraged the citizens of our state to think seriously about energy conservation and use, as well as the practicality of observing an outmoded tool used for synchronizing train schedules.

With warmest regards,

Peter Ellis

Works Cited

  1. Broom, J. (2008, October 25). "Federal transportation officials say Eyman’s initiative could be costly to state". The Seattle Times. Retrieved online November 2, 2008 from
  2. Handwerk, B. (2007, March 9). "Daylight Saving Change: Energy Boon or Waste of Time?". National Geographic. Retrieved online November 2, 2008 from
  3. Initiative 831. Retrieved online November 2, 2008 from
  4. Kotchen, M. J. and Grant, L. E. (2008, October). Does Daylight Saving Time Save Energy? Evidence from a Natural Experiment in Indiana. Cambridge: National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved online November 2, 2008 from
  5. Modie, N. (2003, March 15). "A bum rap? Eyman initiative is ruled out". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved online November 2, 2008 from
  6. Vernon, J. (2008, October 31). "Daylight Saving Time History in the U.S.". National Geographic. Retrieved online November 2, 2008 from

Infocamp Notes – Day 1

Orientation Notes

  • Infocamp: Power to the people.  Enable the user to use technology (but what’s technology?)
  • Disciplines represented: IA, Libraries, HCI, usability, user centered design, technical communication.
  • 2 days, 45 minute presentations – we can react to stuff happening NOW (WaMu)

Keynote – Jacob Wobbrock

  • Degree in HCI
  • dub: University of Washington HCI/design group, stands for “design, use, build” – combines computer sciences, info school, technical communications, school of arts
  • Disability: contrast w/ ability.  Contrast standard parking handicapped sign with other graphics
  • Accessibility: not just for people in wheelchairs, curb cuts: bikers and strollers assist as well.  Curb cuts if built from the beginning save money.  Anticipating accessibility saves money in the long run.
  • Person pushing cart through sliding doors: situationally impaired
  • accessible design: talking about everyone, in different circumstances (situational components)
  • accessibility is usability for all.  It’s not about disability, it’s about what you can do.
  • We have a standard interface for computing that presents challenges to someone with non-standard abilities – we usually adapt the user to the technology, creating specialized technologies.  The assistive technology is a mediator.  But why?  Why not design smarter or adapt existing everyday input devices?
  • EdgeWrite: creates a limited input area to assist with drawing letters
  • Can leverage the properties of edges for more than just text entry – playing with using different input methods along edges of mobile devices, trying to aim for a specific spot in a screen
  • Isn’t the stylus dead due to multitouch?  Weellllll….
  • Reading screen with finger is much different than actually using a screen reader
  • “Why can’t my computer just do the right thing when I type?” – person with peripheral neuropathy
  • Demo TrueKeys: live spell checking as typing occurs.  Challenge: How do you allow someone to not have to verify that a corrected word was done properly?  Is there a way that you can always correct a miscorrected word without feeling pressured?
  • Let’s burden the machine: SUPPLE++ – can we automatically generate UI customized to a person’s individual abilities?  Yup.  Issue low-level tasks, model it, then generate an interface that minimize cost and user errors.
  • Forgotten input device: the microphone!  It can be used in creative ways.  Person painted with his voice using Dragon NaturallySpeaking and MS Paint!
  • Vocal Joystick – voice/vowel map so that vowel sounds force cursor to move in a specific direction.  Can map pitch or loudness.
  • Angular deviation for cursors: create larger or smaller targets for clicking as people use the computer.
  • Why don’t we see targets that expand as we approach them, gravity wells, “slippery slope” guidance to common targets?
  • “The world is a button” – Jake Wobbrock
  • “What if the world was a switch?”  Buttons we need to acquire a confined area – switches, not so much – we can overshoot a switch, it doesn’t change the interaction so long as the interaction crosses the plane of the switch.  The world we’ve created is all totally fake when it comes to technology.
  • Can we get rid of pointing and use something called “goal crossing”?
  • Why do we have to assume desktops are x/y grids?  What about polar coordinates or reels?
  • Start from center, when crossing an icon, bring up specific interactions
  • “Flipping the burden”/ability-based design – allow software to adapt to people’s ability.  Think about accessibility as a potentially better design for everyone.
  • Challenge: it takes a company with developers and infrastructure to really push stuff out!

Session 1: Help Me Turn Data into a New Design (Kristen) – Room 106

  • Wanted to learn what problems people were trying to solve using library web site and tried to figure out how to find that out
  • Used chat with a librarian feature transcript to get feedback on current layout
  • Generated lists of tasks performed and problems people encountered (tasks: locate something vs. searching for something, access a specific database, search for specific piece of information, etc.; problems: people can’t find information, people don’t know what they want, did not understand a policy or service, library doesn’t own resource, etc.)
  • Possibilities: tweak search results and training curricula for searching databases, federated search, map out “task paths” for the most common ways of doing certain tasks, overview of resources available, come up with vocabulary based on chat transcripts, make the main page more visual – MORE WHITESPACE!  If people are stuck, give them an “out” – a way to get help.  Create profiles of users so that professors can “target” content to users that they want to see used.

Session 2: Knowledge Management (Room 102)


  • Research (gleaning new ideas)
  • tacit KM – preserving knowledge in the workplace
  • expertise location
  • knowledge sharing
  • knowledge boundaries
  • information verification and security
  • capture verification
  • value page
  • Jeff Smith: How track experts and make findable, not just a tool?  How expose what you don’t know that you wish you knew?
  • defining wwdk
  • data visualization
  • personalization – tailoring how people receive or record knowledge


  • some of the items in the list above could be treated as inputs into the knowledge management process – information verification, security
  • what is a knowledge management system?  It may not be a system at all…
  • What is a knowledge management system, really? It may not even be a “system” per se – it may be an interaction between elements.
  • In fact, knowledge management isn’t systematic – capturing it is, but knowledge management is CULTURAL.
  • KMS are now just generic systems trying to model particular things.
  • explicit knowledge: universal, tacit knowledge: something that’s inside, can’t be vocalized/translated
  • sometimes we need to be able to push knowledge into the background, but it still needs to be accessible and actionable
  • KMS: what these systems try to achieve can be done much more efficiently by changing the culture to allow a daily interchange of information
  • Knowledge needs context
  • “Modern Society is Document Decadent”
  • knowledge management talked about in the context of organizational goals
  • Knowledge Management Maturity Model:
  • what is the difference between information and knowledge, or do we actually even care?

Session 3: Flat File vs. CMS (Room 106)

  • wants something simple and easy to maintain
  • plone – cms, has problems with web host providing it
  • task: figure out whether to stay with flat files or to move into cms
  • what’s the difference between the two methods?
  • theory: a lot of people want to be able to create and maintain content – what to do with volunteers?
  • “flat”: one HTML page per site
  • CMS: more refined management structure
  • 10-12 pages
  • sections of site may be more dynamic
  • 2-3 days reasonable turnaround time on changes
  • 3-4 people updating
  • consider using templates

Another simplified CMS/Flat file:

  • time consuming to maintain and update
  • 12 pages not dynamic
  • 3-4 people updating
  • jobs – HTML templates
  • knowledge of HTML
  • Seamonkey – HTML Mozilla editor
  • richer experience = more admin time
  • social media
  • users are STC, other orgs
  • share resources
  • timely info and info update problem – users news and events and jobs
  • updates w/o CMS


  • WYSIWYG editor
  • easy to change
  • anyone can do updates
  • events: time/place fields
  • content control and security control
  • set permissions correctly
  • CMS outlive person or person outlive CMS?
  • Instructional overhead/longer learning curve
  • CMS doesn’t necessarily imply web 2.0
  • content and system lives on
  • organizational commitment
  • institutional memory/institutional history of docs
  • distributed users***
  • resource limitations: time, $

Cross-boundary considerations:

  • Google Analytics
  • Culture of content sharing
  • Overall vision
  • users have certain expectations
  • Free stuff? Open source?
  • Do I need this NOW or forever?

Session 4: Structured vs. Unstructured Data (Room 102)

  • Goal of product: search through metadata, find metadata in certain systems and create different views of the information out of the system
  • Created series of products that allows metadata findability, but doesn’t work for unstructured information
  • Structured v. unstructured information definition: structured: database has fields and tables and schemas, the Sematic Web, etc.; unstructured: info that you don’t have access to or that isn’t ordered – photos, video, etc.
  • Types of unstructured data: photographs (inc. print), sound files, text, user input, files, logs, video, animation
  • Structure has to have meaning to someone; something can be very well structured, but if you can’t make sense of it, it’s useless.  You need to be able to UNDERSTAND information.
  • Context makes a big difference on how information ends up being structured.
  • Transforming physical unstructured data: requires physical interaction with objects to add structure on top of the physical data
  • virtually all user input is unstructured unless you can limit inputs

Summer Quarter Registration

Well, it’s official (at least on the iSchool side) – I’m doing my internship with the Washington State Department of Information Services over the summer, starting June 30th. That’s four credits of registration, with an additional three credits devoted to this summer’s Information Architecture Summer Institute, June 23rd to 27th:

The institute is intended for professionals working in situations requiring a solid knowledge of the foundational structures and techniques used in information architecture, in corporate, educational, government or nonprofit organizations. The workshop will provide theoretical and practical knowledge that can be used by project managers, taxonomists, Web designers and anyone who needs to successfully design large information structures to meet user needs and business requirements.

I’m mostly just waiting on DIS to send me the official offer of employment and starting to consider places to live.  I still have connections in Oly, so I’ll probably start contacting them soon.

Did You Know You Missed Out If You Didn’t Go To Seattle’s Green Festival?

I’ve spent the last couple days at the Seattle Green Festival, a celebration of sustainability and, simultaneously, a call for change. The festival consists of a wide variety of speakers, an exhibit hall, and a number of activities and vendors all centered around the philosophy of living green. An interesting tidbit: all of the vendors at the Festival were screened and certified to adhere to specific green practices (though what these are, exactly, were never disclosed). This is a unique event, co-sponsored by Global Exchange, a human rights organization, and Co-op America, which focuses on economic action for sustainability.

I attended five sessions over the two days, in addition to wandering around the exhibition hall. Below are my notes from each presentation, followed by my general commentary on the entire thing. I don’t guarantee that these notes represent the entire presentation, just what I got out of it.

11AM Saturday: What’s the Economy for Anyway? (John de Graaf)
John de Graaf, co-author of Affluenza and creator of the PBS documentary by the same name, is someone whose work I’ve been familiar with since my freshman year in college. I’ve seen the film, and I think I’ve even heard him speak at least once before. He’s a fantastic, witty speaker who really knows his stuff, and it was fun to hear him again. Here are my notes:

  • 48% of Americans think that the market should take over from the government
  • What is the purpose of our economic system?
  • Gifford Pinchot stated that the purpose of the economy was the greatest good for the greatest number over the longest run
  • A bit of historical background on our current economy..
    • 1920s: big economic boom!
    • October 1929: stock market crashes, Great Depression
    • Then: A slow increase in economic benefits for all between the ’40s and the ’80s
    • 1980s: Reaganomics: the “trickle down” theory of economics
    • Now: What Bush calls the ownership society and de Graaf calls the “You’re On Your Own”ership society
  • Today, Europeans work about 80% of the time compared to the American work week
  • The US is one of four countries in the world that doesn’t guarantee maternity leave
  • Health: in the 1980s, the US ranked 11th worldwide in longevity; now, we rank, depending on when you check, somewhere between 45th and 47th!
  • The US has 25% of the world’s prisoners
  • The US pays the highest prices for health care and yet gets the worst results out of the system
  • Americans take up 25 acres/person of space; realistically, the world can only support 5 acres/person.
  • Question from de Graaf – and this is a fundamental question: what is the working definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the same result. Americans are encouraged to do this – in fact, we’re encouraged to do more and more of this.
  • Last year, only 14% of Americans took a two week vacation from work.
  • de Graaf’s point was that, for all of our supposed success, as a country, we have a long way to go. There are inherent contradictions in who we think we are as a nation and who we actually are, and these contradictions need to be vocalized and discussed.

Referenced web sites: Global Working Families, Take Back Your Time

12PM Saturday: Climate Change as a Moral Issue (LeeAnne Beres)
This session was one I just walked into without really knowing what to expect. I hadn’t done any research on the speakers beforehand, so I really wasn’t sure who was speaking. As it turns out, LeeAnne Beres is executive director of Earth Ministry, a program trying to bring sustainability and religion together.This was unexpected, but an interesting talk nonetheless, despite my lack of a religious background (some of the Biblical references escaped me).

  • Imagine: a religions conference in Japan in 1997 brings together religious leaders from several different religions and draws attention to climate change
  • Belief drives action!
  • Climate change needs to be framed as a moral/social justice issue, not just an environmental issue.
  • Why argue about the origin of the species and not pay any attention to the extinction of the species?
  • The Vatican was the first carbon neutral state in the world.
  • Working for justice means sharing knowledge and imagination for good.
  • Focus on values and why things happen.

Beres also plugged an upcoming exhibit at the Burke Museum in July: The Last Polar Bear: Facing the Truth of a Warming World, featuring photography by Steven Kazlowski.

1PM Saturday: The Living Building: Integrating Technology with Nature (Jason McLennan)
Jason McLennan is one of the nationally recognized leaders of the green building revolution and is part of the Cascadia Region Green Building Council. If nothing else, he may have convinced me that I need to pester my parents about their upcoming remodel and potentially making it greener (something I’ve held off on thus far).

  • The GBC provides leadership at all levels of the building industry: want to buy a chair? Go to them. Want architectural plans? Go to them. Want to build something? Well… go to them!
  • The average house is twice as efficient as in the 1960s, but these houses have also doubled in size. In addition, the average family size per household has declined.
  • If we don’t make the leap towards green buildings (and sustainability in general), what kind of a leap do we force on the next generation?
  • The active metaphor in this presentation: the flower as a building of the future
  • The goal of the building should be positive net impact
  • The Cascadia GBC has set forth a Living Building Challenge, in which they want buildings to meet requirements defined by six core “petals” (going again with the flower metaphor).
  • The first petal: site. Create compact, connected communities without using new site locations (we MUST reuse land that we’ve already claimed rather than simply claiming more land). In addition, we must set aside an amount of land for preservation equal to the amount of land developed in the project.
  • The second petal: energy. The goal should be net zero energy impact; all energy should be provided for on site.
  • The third petal: materials. Use reusable materials that are safe for human consumption and interaction.
  • The fourth petal: water. Harvest enough water for the needs of the building.
  • The fifth petal: indoor environmental quality.
  • The sixth petal: beauty and inspiration.
  • Buildings that quality for the Living Building Challenge must have already been built and have stood for a year before applying for the program. The program assesses based on real rather than theoretical numbers and estimates of use.
  • This is not an architectural style, it’s a building philosophy!
  • It took 30 years for drastic community change with the introduction of the interstate system between the 1960s and the 1980s. Fast change in our communities is possible, it merely has to be done.

12PM Sunday: The Great Turning (David Korten)
David Korten is the Founder and President of the People-Centered Development Forum.

  • The big picture of the world as we know it today: a confrontation with Earth’s elements
  • First element of the big picture: environmental collapse
  • In 1970, our rate of consumption of materials and as a lifestyle became unsustainable
  • Korten draws some inspiration from the original Star Trek, wherein Kirk would often call for Scotty to divert all power to life support (this routinely happened about once an episode, it seems): this is the message we should be heeding today – divert all power to life support!
  • Second element: poverty/inequality
  • We have to redistribute riches from the rich to the poor and convert nonessential uses of things to essential uses
  • Equity of resources can be defended as a property right
  • The world is ruled by financial institutions whose role is to increase the inequality worldwide
  • “Tinkering in the margins” is not enough for sustainability
  • The idea that it is an unbearable hardship to change our way of life to support the planet is a myth
  • Our problem is really a bad story! The story we grew up with was to control and to subjugate things to human control because we are superior. We organize ourselves into what Korten calls “hierarchies of domination and abuse”. We have to change the story so that we care about one another and the earth, breaking the cycle of domination.
  • The Internet provides the means to change the story.
  • Korten notes that stories have changed already: the establishment of democracy changed the story of how nations can be run, women’s rights and the civil rights movement changed the story of equality
  • For the environment, we must change the story from domination to symbiosis. This transition is in progress.
  • The stories we tell are forms of power – in fact, they’re foundations for power.
  • Korten quotes Hartmann, who describes this as “walking away from the king” (I’m not clear on which Hartmann he refers to, however).

The thing I noticed in this presentation is that while Korten calls the Internet the medium for changing the story, he completely ignored the idea that the technology itself runs counter to the ideas of sustainability. I noticed this to a certain extent in John de Graaf’s presentation as well, but not nearly as much, since he made no explicit reference to the Internet other than the web sites he referred people to.

1PM Sunday: Building the Green Economy (Shannon Biggs, Kevin Danaher, Jason Mark)
These are all co-writers of a book by the same name.

  • The presentation opened with an exercise which I thought was brilliant: the presenter asked the audience to identify three different types of plants, then three different industrial logos. Almost nobody in the audience identified the plants, while everyone identified the logos.
  • Martin Luther King’s speech was not titled “I Have a Nightmare” – he called it “I Have A Dream” for good reason, and this is the message we need to send.
  • The current economy is something like the Titanic, band playing and all.
  • Start from where we are with change!

Web sites mentioned: Global Citizen Center

Exhibition Hall
There was a wide variety of exhibitions, including Third Place Books, Bainbridge Graduate Institute (also a sponsor of the event), the Presidio School of Management, ChicoBag, Annie’s, and Batdorf and Bronson (heck, one of the companies I did a project with in my undergraduate work in Olympia, Fish Tale Ales, was even there). This was an interesting chance to walk around and see what kind of things are already being done sustainably. There was a children’s card game that I didn’t learn much about that was tied into the topic, people pedaling furiously on bikes to power one booth, and a whole slew of people wandering around at any given time. Alas, I had to feed the bookworm part of me and buy more books to toss onto the rather long list of books that I want to read someday.

General Festival Comments
Throughout this entire event, I couldn’t help but notice two things:

  1. Preaching to the choir. It seemed like the people who attended were those who already spoke the talk and walked the walk, to a certain extent. There were a lot of times, particularly in the Korten presentation, where I got the strong sense of a minister preaching to the choir (and Korten, by the way, really embodied this, and got a standing ovation at the end). This is fine, but the problem is that we need to reach out to people who aren’t in the choir, and in some ways, it seems like we might have missed the mark.
  2. It’s not deep enough. Both Amanda and I found ourselves saying “yes, yes, we know this already, we want more.” I didn’t feel that way quite so much in some of the presentations, since they all had good ideas (LeeAnne Beres’ presentation in particular was an eye opener, since I hadn’t thought about Biblical support for the sustainable cause before). There needs to be support for those who want to dive deeper than the people who are only there to regurgitate the content of their latest book, and I felt like that was lacking strongly.

Videos of all the presentations will supposedly be made available on the Green Festivals web site within a couple weeks. There’s another Seattle Green Festival planned for the last weekend of March 2009.


I went down to Olympia yesterday to interview for an internship with the Washington State Department of Information Services. This position would essentially be working with DIS to help them roll out services from their development to production environments; most notably, this would involve work with SharePoint and allow me to have fairly decent exposure to a lot of different projects across state agencies. I wouldn’t be dealing with “end users” per se – at least not in the traditional sense of “non-technical everyday people”. The work would support system administrators and developers in their efforts to use the offerings put forth by DIS.

The interview went about as perfectly as I could hope – after getting signed into the building and getting a visitor badge, I was shown upstairs and talked with the group about my previous experience in SharePoint and answered a few questions about what I thought the internship might entail. As it turns out, one of the people I would be working with in that position was actually an MSIM student in the past, so there was also a smaller conversation about the program itself. The next step is figuring out who I would report to, since there’s some deliberation as to who would be most effective. After the interview, I was given a brief walkaround to meet a couple of other individuals in the office.

On this one, I’m optimistic.

There is, however, still my original discussion with the Washington State Department of Ecology, which has turned into something of a hassle. While Ecology’s project is fascinating – involving working directly with the state’s sustainability initiatives – there are a couple major problems that are causing red flags to pop up in my head left and right:

  1. Communication. I get very random e-mails from Ecology, and not just from a single person – from multiple people, and it’s often fairly clear that they’re not talking to each other internally at all. While I was very comfortably dealing with multiple people at DIS, I have always had a primary contact at each step of the way, which moved from their HR department to a high-level supervisor to a supervisor closer to the work that I would actually be doing. I know at this moment exactly who to talk to and who to work with within DIS to make an internship happen. With Ecology, I have no idea who’s in charge of coordination or who I’d be reporting to. On top of that, they can’t seem to figure out the difference between a capstone project and an internship.
  2. Vetting. Whereas DIS put me through a state application process, the usual requests for references, and an in-person interview, Ecology has done nothing of the sort (and in fact, unless I’ve been misreading the last couple e-mails, seem to be assuming that they’ve already brought me on as an intern!). As important as the vetting process is for an employer, it’s actually almost as important for an employee – it tells me that DIS is taking this seriously and putting me through a standard process for hiring. Ecology hasn’t even so much as requested a resume, to my current recollection.

In short, regardless of what happens with DIS, I’m likely to withdraw my interest in an internship with Ecology – it doesn’t matter how great the project is if the planning process itself isn’t executed well, and at this point, it doesn’t feel well-executed in the least. I’ve had a couple e-mail conversations with people within the MSIM program who have both recommended talking to Ecology either over the phone or in person, but with the DIS interview having gone well (and, quite frankly, sounding like it’ll offer many more opportunities to get involved in different areas), I’m not sure it’s worth the effort.

Notes: Electronic Piers Plowman: Implementing an Edition of a Six-Hundred-Year-Old-Poem for Twenty-First Century Students

These are my own notes from the Research Conversation about representing Piers Plowman today, March 7. Presented by Terry Brooks and Miceal Vaughan. (Note (3/11/2008): I went back in and cleaned some of the formatting up on this, since apparently Windows Live Writer is not quite as consistent as I’d like.)