Category Archives: Environment

Rachel Wingfield Keynote at Research Through Design 2013

I’m at the very excellent Research Through Design conference up in Newcastle. Unlike many of the events I go to, this one is very focussed on the things that people design. All the speakers have had to submit an object, which they are then talking about during the sessions during the day. There have been some beautiful objects, and some great discussion.

I’m dumping my notes from the event here with very little expansion. I hope they may be useful to someone, but I suspect actually that they will be quite opaque to everyone but me. Ah well.

Day one opened with a great keynote by Rachel Wingfield from Loop.pH. She showed a LOT of cool stuff. I’ll try and cover the best of it below.


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Lovely example of real world user interface use, this time to vent against unsightly street advertising.

“Through their blog, the leaders of the movement (which started in France) give instructions on how to order the little red “X” boxes, designed to look just like the click-out boxes in the corner of pop-up windows. Participants are encouraged to stick these pop-down stickers on posters, billboards, vehicles – basically on any advertisements or otherwise unsightly items in the public space that they wish they could control-W out of. Pictures of successful pop-downs are then shared on the blog.”

Pop-Down Project: Closing the Window on Real Life Pop-Ups | PSFK – Trends, Ideas & Inspiration

How to replace the Alaskan Way viaduct?

Something appeals to me about Frank Chopp’s slightly insane idea to replace the Alaskan Way viaduct in Seattle. He’s proposing that the thing is basically just boxed in, and a park is built on top of it. Shops would be put beneath it (a possible issue with Homeland Security) and the strip of land along the waterfront would be pedestrianised.

It’s gutsy, obviously insane and expensive, and would take a city like Seattle, often grid-locked on any infrastructure issue, about 20 years to approve. And it runs a bit counter to my own ethical instincts that say that we should be removing highways, not replacing them. Still, strangely admirable.



“In effect, the Choppway moves downtown Seattle one block westward and gives the downtown a long front yard. Chopp loves the way it saves the view from the current Viaduct, giving it to all sorts of people who can savor it while strolling rather than shooting glances from a speeding car. Hearing him sermonize about it, one would think it’s going to be his legacy.

One big problem is that nearly every interest is lined up against it, including downtown Seattle interests, the design community, the anti-auto, anti-freeway crowd, and people who just want to get a solution, not another donnybrook. Naturally, these people have found it almost impossible to express their real views to Chopp, who just happens to be the most powerful politician in the state, with a personal machine in the House that will do his bidding.”

Crosscut Seattle – Frank Chopp’s megaduct comes out of hiding

Replacing bags

Although Lowepro just released these “95% Recycled Material” camera bags, remember, the most green thing you can do is keep using your existing one and don’t go replacing it until the bottom comes out of it. Not that I can talk. I’m a bag obsessive.


While we’re on the subject of all things green and ethical, what’s with the 100% Ethical promotion that Starbucks have just started here in the uk? Is that a US thing, too? I’m deeply suspicious of the fact that they’re avoiding the use of any fairtrade logos. 100% Ethical? Ethics are relative. 

On a more positive note, they’re finally renovating the hole that is the Staines branch of Starbucks that sits in our local Sainsbury’s. About time. It’s been hard work, propping myself on the edge of their armchairs, trying to avoid the stains which have been on the cushions for the last 3 or 4 years. Hopefully the replacements will be wipe-clean.

The value of metering

Really enjoyed this Kevin Kelly article about the value of keeping data about use (or as he put it – “metering” use). I’ve been thinking about this more in the context of energy consumption, particularly through devices like the Wattson, but it’s interesting to think about the broader consequences of tracking use, and its value.


“Imagine a world were any set of historical data was available to you. Everyone has their own favorite data stream from history they would love to have. Such a trove would transform our lives. For that reason, monitoring everything will become commonplace. Cheaply metering data, in fact, is what propels the free economy. Metering is a type of attention. Products and services will be given away in exchange for the meta data about their use. Data about the free is now more valuable than the free thing itself.

Google and web 2.0 companies realize this. They meter everything they can because the data about things is more valuable than the thing itself.  They buy and sell attention (a type of meta data) to the thing. One could make the argument that value derived from metering is what permits the freeconomy.  Because so much is cheaply metered, we have an abundance of free.”

Kevin Kelly — The Technium

Plug-in vs. petrol powered

Finally, an answer to the question of whether it’s greener to have a plug-in, electric car or a petrol-powered one.


“Several studies have been done on the probable effects of extended-range EVs and other plug-in vehicles and they have all found that they decrease emission of greenhouse gasses significantly. The NRDC’s study found that widespread adoption of plug-in technology would reduce greenhouse gasses by about 450 million metric tons per year, a huge number. It would be the equivalent of taking 80 million cars off the road completely and it would reduce our oil consumption by almost four million barrels per day (about 20x more than we’d get from drilling offshore, by the way.)

Additionally, plug-in vehicles are the only cars that actually get greener as time goes on. As we phase out old, inefficient coal-fired power plants, and replace them with renewable technology like geothermal, wind and solar, plug-in vehicles see corresponding boosts in their carbon efficiency.

Plug-ins will produce more of some emissions however. Gas exhaust doesn’t have the same emissions as coal-smoke, so the emissions profile for the car will shift. Instead of unburned hydrocarbons and NOx being the problem, instead the vehicle will be responsible for more sulfur and mercury emissions. Which is worse is, frankly, a toss-up.”