A pen is a very visceral thing.

An extension of the body that allows one to translate one’s thoughts from mere wisps in the mind to concrete, tangible information, pens serve a very important purpose in our society.  This purpose has not been at all diminished by the advent of technology; I argue it has, in fact, increased its importance.  I use my own pen fairly frequently; whether that’s signing paperwork, writing notes, poetry, song, short stories, or even novels, more often than not, I revert to good old-fashioned pen and paper.

I have always prided myself on having a pen at the ready, which is why I’ve been a bit lost the last day or two – the red Cross Morph I have had since my undergraduate years has disappeared, and no amount of searching has revealed its whereabouts.  Admittedly, the Morph is not the creme de la creme of pens, not by a long shot, but as my everyday pen, it has worked wonders, and obviously, I grew quite attached to it.

So of course, I’m ordering a new one, but since so many years have passed since I initially got my first Morph, I figured a color change was in order – I’ve ordered a new Electric Blue Cross Morph via eBay.

It is my personal belief, however backwards it may seem, that the pen reflects the person – someone who has a pen readily available shows that they are prepared for the unexpected moment where the need for a writing instrument might arise.  If the pen is properly selected, it also says something about who that person is.  My father, for instance, is something of a pen collector and has several quite beautiful fountain pens; I have always found him to be quite eloquent, as suggested by the style of a fountain pen, though of course, the relationship between eloquence and fountain pens is tenuous at best.

I have one fountain pen, but have never found myself able to adapt to the way fountain pens interact with the paper.  Whether this is due to lack of patience or some other factor, I do not know.  I always tend towards ballpoints, and I would like to believe that my everyday workhorse Cross Morph pen reflects something of who I am.  I would prefer that it be the side of me that is always, to some extent, prepared, or perhaps my wordsmith nature.  At the least, though, having a pen on me gives me a feeling of some self confidence, which, I believe, is sufficient reason to harp upon the subject.

25 Random Things

Originally posted on Facebook as part of a meme going around, but reposting here as well.

Okay, okay, I’ll bite on this one, since it actually looks fun (though I’ll probably repost to my real blog…)

Rules: Once you’ve been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it’s because I want to know more about you.

  1. I have absolutely no ability to resist sweets. I do, however, at least make an effort to select healthier sweets (oatmeal raisin cookies) when possible. Ah, who am I kidding.
  2. I want to buy a new bike and actually ride it – none of this sissy “hey, look, I bought it, now it’s a paperweight!” stuff, like what happened with the guitar I picked up. I’ve been strangely attracted to the Jamis Aurora, but can’t bring myself to test ride.
  3. I have a severe hatred of people who arrive noticeably late (say, 3 minutes after class/the appointment/whatever starts).
  4. It’s much easier for me to pretend to hear something than it is to actually hear it – this saves me a lot of “huh, can you repeat that?” loops, but gets me in trouble.
  5. When my parents lived in Seattle (I was quite young), I once hung a sign on the front gate in an effort to make money. I don’t recall what the sign said. I do recall my mother disapproving.
  6. Despite being an adult, I still can’t get over the occasional feeling that bad, scary things are creeping up behind me. Oddly, this only happens in certain places at my parent’s house (no, Dad, it isn’t you…)
  7. I don’t understand people who do things that don’t make them happy (I realize that this is sometimes necessary, but in a good number of cases, avoidable).
  8. I’m an armchair therapist, though I’m not sure friends actually appreciate the advice.
  9. “Environmentalist” isn’t really the right description for me. “Environmental sustainability enthusiast” is much, much more accurate.
  10. Spaceballs: Best. Movie. Ever. Next up would be Reduced Shakespeare Company.
  11. I want to write a novel, I just can’t seem to start. I want to write a nonfiction book, I just can’t seem to start. Oddly, I have plenty of poetry and song lyrics sitting around.
  12. The conversations I have with myself are sometimes the most interesting conversations I’ll have all day. This is sad, but true.
  13. I’m an introvert – literally. I scored 0 in the “E” component of the Meyers-Briggs test last time I took it (and I’ve taken it several times – last was in my senior year in college).
  14. As a consequence of both introversion and wearing hearing aids, I appreciate silence far more than anyone should. I was once on an overnight trip with a class where it was the quietest place I’ve ever run into, and the minutes I spent in that silence were peaceful.
  15. I am often told that it’s really obvious when I’m thinking.
  16. I appreciate the irony of owning a Prius and never driving it.
  17. At the same time as #16, I wish I drove it more, and on longer trips…
  18. …except that, for me, it’s not the act of driving that sucks, it’s the other drivers. I’d be perfectly happy being the only person on the road (and I’m quite certain this is a shared sentiment).
  19. I refuse to answer phones and have a somewhat irrational fear of them. Unfortunately, this is a point that often surpasses the understanding of others. If you e-mail me or contact me electronically, however, I’m as happy as a clam.
  20. The best job interview question I have ever been asked is “If you were a punctuation mark, what would you be?” This was for my work with Evergreen’s Writing Center. My answer to that today is the same as it was originally, but with different logic behind it: “I would be a period, because I tend to be quite abrupt, but very good at bringing things to a logical conclusion.”
  21. I miss living in the townhouse Amanda and I rented in Olympia; my heart skipped a beat when I noticed that one of those same townhouses was for sale a couple days ago.
  22. I want to live up to Gandhi’s statement of being the change we wish to see in the world. I am struggling to figure out how to satisfy that desire.
  23. So far, my favorite places are Hornby Island in British Columbia and San Francisco. I would love to travel to Italy or Greece, however (it’s my high school Latin classes calling their siren songs..)
  24. When it comes to (non-dessert) food, my weakness is pasta. Or pesto. Probably both.
  25. My biggest strength (and, consequently, my biggest weakness) is my independence.
  26. As of late, I’ve felt a lot like Gregory House (from the TV show House M.D.) and I have a lot in common.

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.

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

Book Review: Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything

Book Cover for Wikinomics

This review is cross-posted from Kevin Desouza’s blog "Ideas 4 Change: Thoughts from an Info Mgmt Class".

Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams. New York: Portfolio, 2008. 315pp. $27.95 (ISBN 978-1-59184-193-7)

The essential premise of this work is that the business world as we know it has been changed irrevocably by bottom-up models of collaboration inspired and driven by the Internet. The authors, Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, argue that businesses have two choices: yield to the power of distributed collaboration or die.

Wikinomics strives to set forth a new economic model that takes advantage of a collision of forces: the advent of cheap technologies that enable cheap, easy collaboration and a new generation of workers that have grown up in an increasingly digital world. It argues that collaboration itself has been redefined, that "[t]he new promise of collaboration is that with peer production we will harness human skill, ingenuity, and intelligence more efficiently and effectively than anything we have witnessed previously" (18). The pillars of wikinomics – openness, peering, sharing, and acting globally – replace a tired business method foundationally supported by the idea of the hierarchy and holding knowledge and creative power within companies, jealously guarding these resources as sacrosanct. Rather than companies dictating what they will and will not accept as goods and services to customers or suppliers, companies must now innovate and work alongside them. Organizations not working with the customer merely leads to customers circumventing organizations and designing their own products and services; the organization then misses out on an opportunity to vastly improve products and services and to innovate (149).

The core chapters of the book set forth seven competitive and growth models for corporate use, with an introductory overview, a discussion of what factors created the fundamental changes discussed within the book, one chapter devoted to addressing the arguments against the wikinomics model, and one chapter devoted to discussing how these models can be implemented in what the authors consider the organizations of old. The authors set forth the following seven models:

  • Peer producers, where individuals independently form groups to produce something (67);
  • Ideagoras, global marketplaces of ideas and innovations (98);
  • Prosumers, consumers that both consume and produce goods and services (126);
  • The New Alexandrians, embracers of the openness of today’s economies who construct new collaborative environments (156-7);
  • Open platforms, where companies open their wares for others to build upon (184);
  • The global plant floor, where companies no longer keep all their knowledge and talent in-house and instead farm out responsibility and risk to suppliers, who, in turn, become partners in invention (218);
  • And, finally, the wiki workplace, where openness, collaboration, sharing, and acting globally are creating a new workplace (240).

Elements of each of these models – which all bring outside resources into the center of organizational culture – can foster successful assimilation into the new open economy.

One of the major unacknowledged themes in Wikinomics is the idea that the modern worker suffers from an abundance of information overload, which is, in part, due to the way organizations operate. This is a particularly interesting thread from an information management perspective. In the Wiki Workplace chapter, the authors write that

. . . the vast majority of employees don’t do business processes anymore, at least not in the traditional sense. After years of optimizing supply chains, outsourcing, automation, and stripping costs and inefficiencies out of the back office, most employees spend very little of their day working on regularized activities. "What they do," says [Ross Mayfield, CEO and founder of Socialtext], "is they manage exceptions to processes. Even in the most mundane workplaces like a call center, people are constantly wrestling with new problems" (255, emphasis added).

Workers no longer deal with the routine; they deal with the rule-breakers, and that negotiation often ends up in a slew of information that is never documented or captured for organizational use (and in fact, often gets lost in the shuffle of daily e-mail) (256).

Open platforms really discuss empowering people with access to information that the companies themselves have only loose ideas of how to handle. Tapscott and Williams frame this along the lines of the adage in the Linux community known as "Linus’s Law" after Linux coordinator Linus Torvalds (which, surprisingly, given that they hold Linux up as a model of innovation, is never quoted in the book itself): "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow". To restate this in the context of the book, given enough eyes, all solutions are shallow. Companies lack access to resources to realize all the potential that their data or inventions have – even if they had these resources, they would be unable to process the information. Thus, they are forced to open their walls and create scenarios where "ordinary people can create effective new information services that are more resilient than bureaucratic channels" with these "open platforms for innovation inviting unprecedented participation in value creation" (188).

So with all of the new information thrust upon us and with the advent of such broad-ranging technologies that enable collaboration cheaply and easily across geographic, technological, and ideological boundaries, what are organizations to do? Tapscott and Williams contend that the only things organizations can do – and the only way they survive – is to adapt themselves rapidly to the new models of sharing and cooperation that this "perfect storm of technology, demographics, and global economics" creates (54). The Net Generation, with drastically different norms than seen in business in the past – "speed, freedom, openness, mobility, authenticity, and playfulness" (54) – combined with cheap collaboration technology combined with a global economy that "demands and enables new kinds of economic cooperation and opens up the world of knowledge workers to every company seeking uniquely qualified minds to solve their problem" have created new and unusual problems for organizations to address (55). This storm means that "the new Web is inherently dangerous for the business models that depend on controlling the means of creation and distribution", and organizations must adjust (273).

This is a paradigm shift. Paradigms are mental models that constrain our thinking and are often based on assumptions so strong we don’t notice them. New paradigms cause disruption and uncertainty, even calamity, and are nearly always received with coolness, hostility, or worse. Vested interests fight against the change, and leaders of the old are often the last to embrace the new. Consequently, a paradigm shift typically causes a crisis of leadership (285).

Change management here is an essential trait. However, according to Tapscott and Williams, change management has to start from where companies are today, creating a map between what the company currently does and how it will innovate and collaborate in new economic waters (291). Companies must decide the extent to which they will release their reigns on their internal knowledge and intellectual property; however, the timing of this is vitally important (292). Failure to stage this transition correctly – or to release too much intellectual property – will send a company down in flames (177-8).

Most importantly, this sort of change starts from within. "When confronted with such an all-encompassing revolution in business most companies wonder where they should begin. Our answer is to start at home, by fostering collaboration in the workplace" (313). In addition,

Ignoring the cultural memes and norms of the organization is a common way to have the principles and practices of wikinomics discredited at initiation. Champions of this kind of change need to be sensitive to these concerns and structure their engagement with the enterprise in a way that allows the benefits of collaboration to manifest themselves in pilot projects that can be scaled up and help build further momentum for cultural change (313).

Tapscott and Williams clearly believe in the transformative powers of the innovations of Web 2.0. They recognize that a new generation of people raised with computers and electronics is fundamentally altering the economic landscape now and for years to come. This book made me think long and hard about some of the ideas they had for engaging the workplace in creation and change. They are, at least, realists who recognize that this sweeping change cannot and will not be immediate; for this, I give them a hefty dose of credit. They also recognize that there is a range of options that organizations can take to become more nimble in an economy that implements the ideas of wikinomics. One major challenge to their thinking is that they seem to frame the issue as if this generation were the first to realize the potential for drastic, sweeping change. There have been many instances in the past century where the idea of the old economy being swept away have presented themselves, with no particular action taken as a result. Wikinomics is not the be-all, end-all solution that it occasionally is presented as.

As a last note, I found myself strongly contesting one major theme of the book as I read. In talking about the "N-Geners" (people born between 1977 and 1996 inclusive, a generation that I am definitely part of), Tapscott and Williams assert the following:

N-Geners are not content to be passive consumers, and increasingly satisfy their desire for choice, convenience, customization, and control by designing, producing, and distributing products themselves . . . The ability to remix media, hack products, or otherwise tamper with consumer culture is their birthright, and they won’t let outmoded intellectual property laws stand in their way (52).

I took exception to these statements as I read, and I found myself reviewing the assertion throughout the book: it is unfair to paint the Net Generation in an "us vs. them" light, where the "them" is established cultural norms. This is a consistent theme throughout the book. I do not consider us at war, which this paragraph implicitly suggests. Instead, we are attempting to understand our place in the world as a generation, and increasingly, the answers have been evident in utilizing the existing culture in new ways. As a generation, we spur change not because we are rebellious or because we believe it us our birthright; rather, we do so because we know no better. Indeed, we do so because this perfect storm that Tapscott and Williams have described exists, and we are merely left to go along for the ride. We are simultaneously the instigators and the lost sheep that Tapscott and Williams discuss when they declare "the old multinational that creates value in a closed hierarchical fashion is dead" (214). We are as muddled, in many ways, as the organizations and corporate leaders that Wikinomics was written for: those trying to figure out how to stay afloat in an increasingly boundary-less society.

InfoCamp Notes – Day 2

Welcome Session (9:30, Theater)

Recaps of things learned yesterday:

  • Theory about why multimedia pods aren’t used in libraries: not social!
  • Creative Commons licensing – as soon as you put something online, it defaults to personal copyright unless licensing model is changed explicitly by the author
  • Legalese: “for when something gets really messed up” (hmm, what’s the lawyer to say to that?) – Complexity of language as a shield
  • Axure: “interesting” – Aaron Louie, a lot of interactions that can’t be represented:
  • Tamara Adlin: demoing Denim:
  • Privacy: it’s all about trust – user experience space hinges on the idea of trust

Plenary: Tamara Adlin: The Dirty Little Secret of User Experience (Theater)

  • “Things that you probably already know but that are too easy to forget”
  • Build something which provides information!  Therefore empowers users!
  • Problem: a lot happens before this is even possible, and all these things are handled by different people
  • If we don’t think about things that happen before design and build, we’ve lost a huge opportunity
  • We are Fish!
  • Waterfall method of designing software
  • Agile is actually “Agilefall”, since nobody’s actually doing agile, they just say they are
  • Information professionals (IP) should be there first understanding things and how they work before anyone else does anything
  • IP bring in their tools, but not much really works.  Why?  We throw our data into a hostile environment – nothing grows no matter what the IP does and no matter how good methods are
  • Environment: “executive staff” – if you don’t understand these, DOOM!
  • Dirty secret of UCD in real business: those that make the decisions haven’t decided what they want you to do! (there’s more to this.)
  • Executive: “Why the hell are you building X?  You should be building Y!” – they didn’t know they didn’t want X until they saw it.
  • Our job: help them figure out what they’re trying to do, then write it down!
  • In order to sell a process, someone has to admit that the current process is broken
  • Big honkin’ reports are still what we end up creating.  But data solves everything!  It’s totally the panacea!
  • We give big presentations with lots of bullet points, putting people to sleep – it’s our fault that they fall asleep!
  • Data solves nothing on its own.  Business speaks “Busineese”, you have to translate stuff in order to show them what’s obvious according to data
  • You can’t create great UX if the corporation is confused
  • In the absence of the forces of good, decisions will be made by a hippo – the (hi)ghest (p)aid (p)erson’s (o)pinion
  • Methods: doctor, heal thyself; make yourself usable to the people who are asking you to produce things.  Analyze your users, then create usable projects
  • Ask for business goals (usually have #s), brand goals (usually related to other brands, perception management), and customer experience goals (things you want to hear after people use your widget) – GET THEM APPROVED OFFICIALLY AT LEAST ONE LEVEL HIGHER THAN THE PERSON YOU’RE WORKING WITH!
  • Help customers get these three things written down – that’s your role as UX
  • Be the dumbest person in the room and apologize a lot.  Congratulate other people for your own ideas.  Remember that everyone in the room walks on thin ice and help them.  When you’re totally stuck remember that everyone else will think whatever you do next is the most inspired thing ever.
  • Do at least one exercise that forces people to play with sticky notes.  Put paper on the wall and sticky notes – it makes people feel important! (Adlin: “Maybe it’s because we deal with electronics all day and then they’re like ‘Ope, Paaaypeeer!'”)
  • Audience question: who needs to be in the room playing with the stickies?
  • If you pick the wrong persona, as long as you’re in the right neighborhood, you’re probably going to create something that’s better than you would have created otherwise.
  • Office: “At some point, someone’s going to want to put a pivot table on a birthday card!”
  • People who need to be in the room: those who care and the biggest pain in the rear available
  • Create personas, then show executives something that looks like Excel.  Create a persona-weighted feature matrix: ask people to weight the personas, then weight the features based on those personas
  • Get from business, brand, and customer experience goals through to actual features and functionality
  • You MUST be able to trace decisions back to the business goals
  • Hippos never go away, but if they sing the same tune, great!
  • When doing activities, go in cold – it shows confidence

Session 5: Geoinformatics: Why You Need the Science, Why the Scientists Needs You (Room 104)

  • Geoinformatics: geographic information systems, using GIS to describe environment – maps!  Find a spot on the surface and get information related to that location.
  • What’s going on with water quality, air quality, the amount of vegetation?  There’s not many piece of information about the environment at a particular location.  USGS has put together before and after imaging of different things – coastline lost, for instance
  • Discussion: we’re information consumers of this information – are we using interfaces to get information about our environment?  What opportunities exist for information professionals in geoinformatics?
  • Frustrations: people provide great data, but no underlying machine-readable files
  • We have precision to see this information, but the interface is bad – “Beautiful map, but we can’t interact with it”
  • UrbanSim:
  • Nat’l Weather Service relies on USGS data to provide things like flood warnings
  • There’s overlap and wasted resources because agencies work on the same issues.
  • Resistance to opening data to a specific standard: “I’m a GIS analyst and I use a complex system and I know that system well, so why should I turn around and give out the data?”
  • Does information get quashed out of fear?  USGS has no regulatory oversight duties – it doesn’t matter whether a volcano’s going to explode tomorrow, they present what’s happening
  • This is about information about the earth – what’s going on, not just what’s on the map
  • The data is completely meaningless without some hint of what that data is about – ideally, the structure given to that data self-narrates and describes what that data is about without additional documentation
  • There’s so much here and so much information that’s useful, but we’re so far down the road that there’s so much data in so many standards that it’s all very hard to start working with now that we’re actually interested in manipulating that data
  • “I want this data to be interoperable” – how do we get that to happen?  Contact USGS, congressperson, representative, anyone you can come up with – Department of the Interior
  • It’s not necessarily the data per se that people want, it’s the tool that interprets the data
  • Useful sites/resources: EPA SuperFund, Storet, National Water Information (NWIS), King County Parcel Viewer

Session 6: Some Database Design and Designing a Database About Everything (Theater), Quentin Christensen

  • How do we come up with a way that we can work with a lot of different diverse database sources?
  • First step: requirement gathering – what’s the data model we want?  What information do we need to have stored?
  • Relation: a table.
  • Normalization: 1st form: only one value; 2nd form: all rows have unique identifier (primary/candidate key); 3rd form: dependencies
  • Physical modeling: how much data do we have, how many times are operations performed, what types of operations?  These all have different costs – performance optimization!
  • Prototyping: create database tables, create operations, etc.
  • SSPiN: Wiki-inspired database system with different aspects that allow for linking generic aspects
  • User-generated content is great for the bottom line – you manage the infrastructure, but the users do all the work on giving your site data to work with

Session 7: Brainstorm: Solving the online identify crisis (Nick Finck) (Theater)

  • There’s you, your circle of friends, then groups of those friends (and networks that extend beyond that second degree)
  • Social networks: not really networks, but tools
  • Supposedly, UX builds these tools to help ease people’s lives… except we’re at the center of the hub and have to maintain all these tools
  • How do we manage all this information that these systems have that are not necessarily being shared but being used?  We really want to share this data across systems, connecting discrete pieces of information across systems.  These services are afraid to share data!
  • We need negotiators: things that take data and then share it with other systems – but systems are very protective against this.  OpenID is a translator, not a negotiator.
  • Common users aren’t programmers – they can’t get into APIs.
  • What happens if users can control and define data about social connections?
  • “I could go out and tell the system, ‘these are all my friends’, and it would just go out and figure out where all my friends are…”
  • We don’t want this kind of a system to be created by a company – we want it to be community-based.  There is no entity that we really want to give sole control over this sort of an idea.  Make it open source.
  • User should be able to control what data is used where and how it’s used – determine whether data should be shared.  System may be able to self-negotiate such a thing.
  • There’s no shared vocabulary that allows the definition of who is friends and other types of contacts
  • Next generation of social networks: it’s not just what’s connected, but the value and strength of those connections
  • If I’m connected to Bob and trying to connect to someone, it’d be interesting to know what that person has done as a result of creating that link.
  • Problem: APIs suck right now for social networks.  They just aren’t useful.
  • Creating separate identities for different purposes – one for professional interactions, one for “the dirt”
  • Services exist that combine all your phone numbers into one with various ways of manipulating where phone calls go
  • For gateway: first identify what accounts are yours, then categorize the accounts – note that some stuff would have to be stored by the gateway service – “the less, the better”
  • Forget CRMs, we need IMs – identity managers.
  • Challenge is where the borders lie: what information do you want/need to be different across services?
  • Define mappings between services, as well as mapping directionality: “this group on LinkedIn maps to this group on Facebook, and this is what I want copied”
  • (perhaps we could call this protocol “identity management protocol” or IDMP…)
  • Build the system based on what exists
  • Biggest problem for this system: membership – how many users does such a system have?

5 Minute Madness (interesting ideas, what we’d like to do, etc.):

  • Delridge Cultural Center has a great Halloween party in its space!
  • Not many blogs linked to the wiki…
  • Sessions touched on a lot of different parts of how we create user-centered information and experiences – these conferences can be overwhelming with “why don’t I, why should I…”
  • Where is your niche?  Not everything everyone else is doing matches every business situation or personality – know your gift and let your particular gift shine
  • What we really need for student research is a central, free tool
  • Idea: Crowdsourcing weather forecasting – put a bunch of transmitters on cars, if windshield wipers are on, where are they?  Anonymous data.  Idea: Metro has transit broadcasters already for bus locations – piggyback?  Washington Ferries do this for marine weather…
  • Idea: GPS track peoples cats – apparently this is already done…
  • Northwest Tea Festival coming up!
  • Refresh Seattle in Fremont

A Tribute to NP-Complete

Inspired by an xkcd comic, NP-Complete, and also because I was buying some DVDs from Amazon anyway, I decided that I wanted to place an order from Amazon that was as close to $100 worth of merchandise as possible after tax and shipping.

The rules:

  • The order must be as close to $100.00 as possible, including tax and shipping charges (note: using free shipping options is not considered cheating).
  • Items in the cart at checkout must be things that the buyer wants and will use. You cannot?????? simply select something that will round out the price tag.
  • All items must be sold by, not their resellers (this is because resellers tack on extra shipping costs for certain items).

This took a bit of work, especially since I already had three DVD box sets in the cart that I was buying via one of Amazon’s TV DVD sales. Values as follows:

  • Stargate Atlantis – The Complete First Season; DVD; $24.99
  • Stargate Atlantis – The Complete Second Season; DVD; $25.00
  • Eureka – Season One; DVD; $25.00

компютри втора употребаI tried first throwing stuff in from my wish list, originally throwing in a paperback copy of Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous. After that, I realized that I had been looking for either a spork or a set of stainless steel chopsticks for home/travel use. I was able to add in a set of stainless steel chopsticks fairly cheaply. With the chopsticks, the book, and the three DVD sets, I got to $98.29 after tax and shipping – roughly $1.70 short.

I spent a bit of time trying to figure out if I could fill that extra $1.70 by buying something small, useful, and cheap – apparently Amazon doesn’t believe in selling individual packets of Post-its or M&Ms or something trivial like that (at least not without going through a reseller, which would break the rules).

I finally managed to get it to $99.75 total with free Super Saver shipping after swapping Weinberger’s book out with another book on my wish list. The breakdown looks like this:

  • Stargate Atlantis – The Complete First Season; DVD; $24.99
  • Stargate Atlantis – The Complete Second Season; DVD; $25.00
  • Eureka – Season One; DVD; $25.00
  • Serves One: Simple Meals to Savor When You’re on Your Own; Toni Lydecker; Paperback; $11.53
  • Global Decor Stainless Steel Chopsticks, 4 Pairs; Kitchen; $4.99

    Subtotal: 91.51
    Free shipping and handling
    Estimated Tax: $8.24
    Total for this Order: $99.75

This is actually an interesting exercise because it exposes information about what Amazon does and does not sell, and also gives some hints as to the usability of the site overall. While I was doing this, I was instant messaging a friend of mine that’s currently serving in Iraq (and coming home in the next couple weeks, I might add) – I originally described this as an “intellectual exercise in consumerism”; he shot back that this is actually interesting social commentary.

This was after calling me a geek/nerd/dork/weirdo/etc.

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.