Archive for Adapt

Leave the Bazaar: A Chartered Path to Development

This period of socio-cultural evolution is defined by independent developments, consisting of wave after wave of advancements in production (robotics, 3D printers, gene replacement), product development (tablets, smartphones, wearables), and social connectivity (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Snap Chat, Tinder). While these advancements have allowed us to reach new heights in productivity and connectivity, there has been no control linking them together or creating a path to drive society to a better path. Instead each development is presented as the greatest wonder of the world, thrown at society to do with it as they will, and to be challenged the next day by something else. What is the end game? Who has a map and knows where we are going? Patchopolis recognizes the necessity to lead society from a roaming free-for-all to a chartered path of collaborative vision, using advancements to orchestrate something greater.

During this period of rapid innovation, there is consistently a new product, material, or method of execution released. I receive the Abundance Insider from Peter Diamandis each week, celebrating innovation and highlighting technological growth at an exponential rate. Corporations are getting on board, changing their structure through creating whole new departments for innovation. These departments, like Wells Fargo’s Innovation Group this past summer, R&D new methods to reach and serve their customer base. It is a tidal wave of innovation, it is the Future of Stuff.

The title – The Future of Stuff – highlights the inefficiency of independent development as a technological evolutionary path. The manufacturer is thrown a new material and the consumer a new gadget or app, but there are no instructions for how it fits together. Warren Ellis criticizes this through the setting of a circus, a wave of “garish, unsustainable, carnival acts” (Warren Ellis, Cunning Plans: Talks By Warren Ellis). I’ve noticed this inefficiency in reviewing social media platforms to promote professional brand. The capabilities of Flinja – a method for hiring students – doesn’t have a method to connect or convert to LinkedIn. A student creates a track record of great service and performance on one website and then is left to start over when entering their post-education professional world. Warren Ellis tells this tale, stating “We’re at the end of twenty years of Future Everything, and maybe a hundred and twenty years of futurism as its own industry, and here we stand in the dark, in the rubble of busted ideas and broken promises and ten thousand conference lanyards. No future left.” Who manages our innovations and where is the road map of how this fits together?

I review the current condition not as a circus, but as a bazaar. In a circus there is one bearded lady, one strongman, one set of conjoined twins. We are not that organized. There is a ‘stand’ selling social media over here and twenty feet away there is another stand selling nearly the same functions, packaged differently. What we need is “…people talking about the future of space travel talk to the people talking about the future of music, and so few of them seem to talk to the people involved in political futures except as lobbyists” (Warren Ellis, Cunning Plans: Talks By Warren Ellis). There is no collaboration among social media much less across other fields to create one better system. The stands in our bazaar operate independently, with no contact between the future of social media, food, architecture, and transportation.

Patchopolis expects oversight, a power connecting previously unconnected fields, to co-develop. “Time and again I’ve seen people gather fantastic information about social technologies and utilities and urban patterning that could be put to any number of uses in combination with other research fields, and they’re just sold to a corporate or a government authority and not only is the work never seen again, but the people who invented wonderful ways to do it don’t know what happened to it” (Warren Ellis, Cunning Plans: Talks By Warren Ellis). Oversight prevents waste in reinventing the wheel three, and four times and makes a smooth delivery to the public that explains how to put development to efficient use. In Patchopolis a path is chartered to reduce overlap, recognize shared goals and abilities, and allow innovation to reach a higher level.

Home as an Extension of the Individual

Mobility is a necessary part of life. Whether it is switching neighborhoods or cities for education, a new job, or simply traveling for a week of training or meetings the process is disruptive, expensive and time-consuming. Search through home – your sanctuary – and consider what items you cannot go without and what is not necessary. No matter how temporary the transition it shakes up life and the feeling of comfort and safety. Home must adapt with the individual. Based on the concepts of The Adaptable House in Denmark, designed to expand as a family gets larger or contract after a breakup or divorce without major construction and structural changes, housing needs to fit the individual’s life-style (Peters, Fast Company). The concept and design of housing needs to be thought of as an assembly of parts. Create a collection of cubes, the most intimate of which – where one relaxes after a long day and sleeps – is a mobile extension of the individual, going on the trip or a life transition with them. At the end of the day the individual still has a place called home, with all the personal belongings – their personal identity – with them. Patchopolisenvisions a future where home is more than a state of mind, it is an extension of you.

An all too familiar scene, I again am moving cities, packing everything. This time it is more disruptive, my farm (what little survived my last week long work trip) will not survive this and needs to be cut down and disassembled. Once in my new apartment it is weeks before I am unpacked and who knows when I will feel like finding new furniture. That feeling of a sanctuary is ripped away and for a few weeks this isn’t my comfortable get away at the end of a work day. It is a foreign land where I reside.

Housing as an extension of the individual can be based around the development of superstructures. The individual’s piece packs up, is removed, and travels to the new site to be placed in another superstructure. This saves space in cities, not needing to provide full hotel rooms for a traveler. Instead the core exists and provides a structure to slide in individual cubes, each with amenities specific to the individual’s own tastes and needs. Universities would similarly not provide whole dormitories, and families wouldn’t have to find a new house. The city would become a collection of cores to which you and your cube attach. Fitting with the vision and goals of Patchopolis, communities transition as individuals reorganize and moving becomes an easy, comfortable process rather than a time and financial burden to the individual.

Core and cube

Core and cube

Cubes individualized  with what owner finds comforting

Cubes individualized with what owner finds comforting

An individual's sanctuary

An individual’s sanctuary

Is This Your Future Kitchen?

Patchopolis is a laboratory for testing new concepts of urban living and to envision societal transformation as it responds to local and global changing conditions. A couple months ago the New Yorker published an article about Soylent, a liquid meal replacement providing essential nutrients without users spending time producing meals, and minimizing food bills (Widdicombe, May 12, 2014). The article is a fascinating review of the creator, the development of Soylent, and the company’s mission; however, it eventually falls into the typical trap of questioning public acceptance of replacing the typical diet. As discussed in a previous post (The Dangers of Premeditated Solutions Limiting the Search for Perfection) this type of thinking limits the potential for transformation. Home food production, through urban farming, 3D printing, and meal replacement drinks, should not be approached as an either-or with traditional food and cooking options. Instead, consider how this reflects a global marketplace, changes the concept of a kitchen, and contributes to the transformations of society.

The Soylent website is a fascinating example of the global marketplace. While providing the background and make-up of Soylent and trying to influence the visitor to order, it also includes a link to the DIY Soylent Community. At the time of the New Yorker article’s publishing the Soylent product was not yet ready for public release (though it was accepting pre-orders); however’ it was already committed to being open source – inviting users to order their own materials and produce and share their own recipes. Proprietary fears that typical food companies have with sharing the recipe and production method were already out the window and Soylent was supporting the community they intended to serve in tinkering with their own versions and flavors of meal replacement drinks. This is a substantial shift in the thinking, marketing, and evolution of products.

Over the last few months I have tried a DIY version of Soylent. I have no intent on reporting benefits on my own health. Honestly, I’m no picture of health in the first place, so there would be no fair comparison. I also have spent almost every other week traveling this summer, so I have been on-again-off-again going for days on a DIY Soylent diet followed by a week traveling, having irregular meals, mostly in restaurants. I instead tested a version of Soylent to see how easy it was, how it tasted, and its fit as part of a modern diet. This has resulted in my kitchen further evolving, combining its already small size and indoor farm with a new collection of nutrient powders to be mixed and chilled for the next day’s meals.

Urban farm and all the powers for my first DIY Soylent mix.  Hope to add a 3D printer and aquaponics in the not too distant future.

Urban farm and all the powders for my DIY Soylent mix. Hope to add a 3D printer and aquaponics in the not too distant future.

Still learning and revising production modules and methods in my farm, due to being gone for weeks at a time this summer with no one around to water, fertilize and care for system, there has been a lot of die-off. For DIY Solent mixing, the kitchen now includes a scale and thirteen canisters of nutrient powders which blend together and chill to make a chocolate flavored mix. Also I’ve began experimenting with ways to add flavor and the effect on my Soylent mix, experimenting with fresh banana (Yum!) or coffee in place of water. In the near future the intent is to add a 3D printer and experiment with innovative foods. I personally don’t envision any one of these systems as the end all solution, but assume that I will continue to mix and match, using them to create what each individually contributes. Let’s not assume that only one system is an option and limit our diet, but engage the freedom new technology provides to improve health and happiness.

Society is changing on many fronts. Technology continues to advance at a nearly unbelievable pace. Remember what life was like five-to-ten years ago? I used to travel successfully without a smart phone to navigate and stay in constant social contact! Multiple groups are now preparing missions to establish societies on the Moon and Mars (How We’ll Cook Breakfast on Mars, Jessica Leber , August 8, 2014). Global threats including war, disease, and climate change threaten the concept of ‘home’ and are displacing whole communities. As these elements combine it is not hard to conceive that in the near future we will be living in very different social, economical, and environmental environment. Evolutions in food, and other systems, will contribute to allow for adaption.

The Good, The Bad, The 10,000 lb Gorilla in the Room: The 2014 Sustainability Message

During the last week of March I attended the annual Milwaukee Sustainability Summit. I do not annually attend sustainability conferences because the cost is too great for a message that year-to-year is too similar. In between conferences I get my news and statistics through trade journals and the social media (Twitter, blogs, etc.) people and groups I follow. While convenient, this can isolate the message I see, limiting myself to a selected set of sources and causing me to miss new trends and discussions. So, since it had been three years since my last sustainability or green building conference, I felt it was time for a refresh. It is 2014; what new technology is available, who are the latest start-ups and what is their business plan, and what is the overarching sustainability message? Here is what I found:

The Good: Whatever you do, do something!

The sessions and presenters provided a good variety of topics, not allowing attendees to squirrel away and only be there for ‘your’ topic. It’s beneficial to be exposed to what is happening in other fields and the arrangement of presenters, exhibition booths, and breakout sessions required you to get updates on a variety of topics. For me this meant I got my water update, and — while it isn’t a field of study I practice, study, or am particularly engaged by — I know the latest enough to collaborate with those groups on a community project. There also was a clear overall message shared through most sessions: be active on any level you can, find some way to get engaged and make a difference. This is essential for any good conference and this one met that standard.

At any good conference there are sessions that leave you feeling empowered! Ones where you leave and want to tell everyone all about your experience and discussions. For me this came from a breakout session hosted by Sustain Dane and American Family Insurance, presenting a great case study on American Family Insurance’s progress towards zero-waste. The PowerPoint wasn’t a list of statistics but instead led us through the talk, and they made time not just to have a standard Question and Answer session but engage with the audience. We had a ‘Dream Event’ (for those Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing it was similar to miniature kaizen event) in which everyone took five minutes to focus on and picture a zero-waste life, then took five minutes to map out with sticky notes what they saw, and then in groups discuss the images. I found the group I was in very engaging and our conversation to be particularly enlightening.

The Bad: Who got the message?

It was clear from the start attendance was below expectations. For the Welcome and Opening Plenary, the main conference hall was less than a quarter full. In part this could be due to a lack of a particularly ‘big name’ presenter in this session; however, I still was starting my day questioning if I had made a huge mistake in attending this conference. In the following sessions attendance did gradually improve, but it was clear they expected a lot more than the approximately 3,200 attendees over two days they attracted. Blame the economy? Blame the conference cost? Blame the order of presenters? In the end, it was noticeably underwhelming.

The Gorilla: It’s time for some straight talk

I opened this entry citing that it had been a few years since I attended a sustainability or green conference and this was an opportunity to get engaged with the 2014 message. I’m sorry to say the 2014 message is startlingly similar to the 2010. The message back then was a need to reduce CO2, that there are limits which if hit will start to enact climate change, and we will hit a point where it is irreversible. The data through 2013 shows minor (when there is any) improvement, events already happening that may in part be caused by climate change, and still a sustainability message about averting limits by 2020, 2030, and 2050.

I’m not alarmist. I played that role in college and it doesn’t do any good; you get sucked into theoretical Tragedy of the Commons discussions. During my alarmist stage everyone wanted to ask ‘When?’ like there is a clock and when it hits zero a door around the earth closes and all humans die due to climate change (nuclear annihilation maybe, but that is a completely separate discussion we can have). In reality, with climate change we go out as we came in – with a whisper not a bang.

I was disappointed that the 2014 message does not call for a pivot towards climate adaption as a strategy. Let’s be honest – we are not going to avoid or minimize climate change, the graphs are not showing progress to suggest this is feasible (Justin Gillis, New York Times). I applaud the efforts shared at the conference of Will Allen and Growing Power, who through the work they are doing understand the climate is changing and we must adapt through trying new strategies, and there were others whose message clearly understood we are entering a time of adaption. However, it is time that as a whole we switch the public message and strategy. It is time to start developing solutions and strategies for what the world is becoming.

Overall, between the low attendance and a lack of message that calls for the creation of adoption strategy, the conference was disappointing. I expect events like this to send individuals and groups back into the world more united, with a feeling of empowerment and unity, yet the lack of understanding of the times we are in was underwhelming and I did not leave feeling empowered or unified. In retrospect my decision to attend and get the 2014 message update was not worthwhile, and I doubt I will attend another conference until I start to see the larger message evolve. When the sustainability message pivots toward a local focus of adaptive strategy implementation, rather than broad planet-sized statistics, I may need another update or, by that time, to participate and share what the organizations I am an active member in are doing.