The complexities of trying to be environmentally friendly

Thanks to Michelle for pointing to this thread on the subtleties in the comparison of the environmental friendliness of 3 kitchen appliances. The basic question is this one:

“My roommates seem to be constantly boiling water for tea. We’ve got a gas stove, a microwave, and an electric teakettle. However, we don’t know which option is most efficient. Any ideas?”

The answers highlight the complexities in trying to make decisions about “doing the right thing”. The answer to this question is not as simple as “which appliance consumes the most electricity”. The excellent comment thread quickly get into issues of energy use during construction, energy use during standby, wasted energy through heating too much water, wasted energy because tea doesn’t need boiling water it needs warm water, energy use during transportation and so on.

Health and dietary issues are just the same. They’re just as frustrating and complex to try and make decisions about, and just as fraught ethically. BBC Radio 4 were commenting this morning during my drive into work on Prince Charles’ assertion that banning McDonald’s was the answer to childhood obesity problems. The Daily Mail did a comparison of a Big Mac to an organic Cornish Pasty from the Prince’s own food range and found the pasty wanting. You hear about this kind of failed comparison all the time when trying to do the “right thing” with buying food. Is it better, for example, to buy organic food, or food that doesn’t have as many carbon miles in it?

I tell you. It’s a confusing world that we live in.

On boiling water for tea

BubbleBoard intro

The team I work in is great. We not only focus on interesting themes, and on the home (a compelling domain for a designer like me) we also have a healthy scepticism about the power of technology. Or at least the ease with which technology is a solution to every problem. In the home, particularly, the barrier to entry and acceptance for a new piece of technolgy is very high. A business can require it’s employees to use a certain piece of software regardless of its ease of use, but the same isn’t true at home. At home it’s always an option, and even if a piece of technology makes it over the doormat that doesn’t mean it will be easily integrated into home life.

We’ve been working on BubbleBoard for the last 8 or 9 months, as a follow on to Homenote, an earlier piece of work which predated me. It’s an example of a visual answer machine, an idea recently popularised by the Apple iPhone, but thankfully one that we’ve been working on for quite a while.

BubbleBoard is quite metaphorical, perhaps too much so. It uses bubbles to represent newly recieved answer phone messages, allowing family members to tell at a glance who called, when, and how long their message is. It allows them to directly manipulate their messages through touch so they can triage them quickly, deleting the ones that they don’t want to keep, and saving the ones that they do. It offers clear advantages over linear, audio-driven voicemail systems and that notion of saving messages easily introduces new opportunities for the ways in which people at home think about their messages. They can save messages that are precious or emotive. Or they can save messages that simply remind them of a task they need to complete.

BubbleBoard has a whiteboard region to the right of the saved area that allows for very simple annotation of messages. Users can “tag” their messages in any way they want – assigning them to people and dates, or highlighting them with qualities like “fun”.

Here’s the short paper recently submitted to CHI 2007 for those that are interested.

Grandad in Amman

Grandad in Amman

After my Grandfather died my Mum and Uncle took the responsibility of dealing with the mass of paperwork and belongings that someone leaves behind when they’re gone. They spent a few weeks going through what was left and making decisions about what to dispose of and what to keep, trying to imagine what items might have sentimental value to different family members, as well as what items might simply have value as a record of his life.

Grandad had an amazing life. He trained as en engineer before moving to be a pilot. He spent time pre-WWII learning the flying ropes in Egypt, and Scotland before spending the first half of the war running bombing raids across Europe in both Hampdens and Lancasters as part of 83 Squadron. He reached the rank of Squadron Leader. He shifted to the Empire Test Pilots School as part of their first year of inductees in the second half of the war after receiving the Distinguished Service Medal for his role in the many, many bombing raids that he must have been grateful to survive.

He became a test pilot for AVRO before becoming air traffic controller at their airbase at Woodford, and then retiring.

I’m 37, near enough. He retired in the 70s, when I was 6 or 7. So for most of my life, for 30 years, his amazing history has not been a part of what made him him to me.

My mother and uncle’s work on his belongings resulted in a tattered red suitcase that is brimming with photos of his life, most of which are taken from the many years that were a mystery to me. I’ve got that bag at the moment, and am slowly scanning in many of these items. Envelopes are full of black and white photos of this young, fun man, with scratchings on the back in his hand-writing documenting what was going on, when and with whom.

This young, fun man became an old, fun man and I’m grateful that I still see a lot of the character of the man I knew in these old shots. I’m grateful, too, to have the chance to go through this amazing archive in my own time and make the half of Grandad that I knew into a whole.

Shannon’s Short Stories

Shannon had one of her great short stories, “Hangers”, published last year after entering a competition run by Momaya Press. They’re an independent publishing house that run this competition yearly with the goal of giving a voice to new writers. Wining entries are included in their annual review collection of short stores. This years theme was on Escape.

We attended the prize giving at the end of last November which was held at the London Review Bookshop just around the corner from the British Museum. Here’s a shot of Shannon giving her acceptance speech for her Honorable Mention award.

Well done, S.

Is this mean?

Shannon wants this cook book. She already has MANY cook books. She recently bought this one. She hasn’t even cooked anything from it yet. I’ve told her that once she’s cooked 10 new recipes from her last purchase she can buy this new one she wants. I get to be taste tester for many of these recipes (although most are probably really meant for Maddie) AND I get whatever benefits the new book brings. Does that seem a bit selfish?

Lullaby music

Although I like listening to music while I work, I spend a lot of time reading blogs for my Trends site which means I rarely do. I can’t concentrate on reading while listening to lyrics. So I’ve started looking around for slow tempo “background” music that doesn’t interfere, that doesn’t distract me so much with words.

Eingya by Helios is a great example, recommended by my friend Ario. Soft and slow burning. But I’ve found an alternative that may work even better, which is this set of Rockabye Baby! Lullaby records. Songs by Metallica, Nine Inch Nails, Pink Floyd, Radiohead and others, lyric free and rendered lullaby lite. You’ll barely notice they’re there, but find yourself humming them hours later. Not sure how much Maddie cares for her Coldplay version yet, but I like it.

CG getting "real"

I’ve seen a few shots from Crysis, a new game from the makers of Far Cry, in which the characters look very real. Very close to real, at least, but still with a few odd bits that marked them as fake. Things like pixelation around the ear. Details. Not quite so with the shot below, which is also computer generated. This one is hard for me to distinguish from a real person.

Is this both amazing and scary? No more airbrushing of fashion models in the future in order to manipulate reality, for example, and set unachievable perfection. Just go straight to CGI.

Link to So Long Uncanny Valley – Kotaku