On stage at OnPoint: An argument from culture

Me providing (unpaid) plug of OGO Carshare on stage. Photo credit: Deon Nel Photography

Urban Systems rounded out their series of workshops on housing, the economy, and climate with their fourth and final workshop on Transportation. The evening focused on thinking about how transportation could enable vibrancy in the community.

I shared the panel with autonomous vehicle enthusiast Joseph Hlady and Lisa McIntosh, one of the founders of Urban Harvest Organic Delivery. You can read a bit of a roundup of each of points of view in the Kelowna Capital News.

As you can see, there was a bit of diversity on the stage. Lisa McIntosh was closer to my position of less car usage overall, but Joseph Hlady went a completely different direction. He painted a wondrous if ambiguous future of autonomous vehicles providing last-mile transportation support to the elderly and disabled. His vision had people using automated rideshare, rather than purchasing their own cars. Of course, he neglected to say what international venture-backed behemoth would inevitably own these vehicles.

He argued from the perspective of efficiency, how automated cars would mean less vehicles on the road, and from safety (less auto accidents) and accessibility. To me, this came off as just arguing for a more efficient version of the terrible system we already have, rather than a more radical vision of what we need.

Joseph argued against light rail and other forms mass transit, and actually argued that AVs would allow Kelowna to remain spread out. This floored me and many people in the audience. We just spent the last 3 sessions of OnPoint talking about YIMBYism, and the need to densify.

Me furious writing notes while Joseph talks.
Me furiously writing notes while Joseph talks. Photo credit: Deon Nel Photography

A future of every individual being whizzed around in little tin cans is exactly the opposite of what I argued for on stage. My position is that we need to abandon car culture, the real cause driving our current disastrous environmental, economic and social transportation system.
Continue reading “On stage at OnPoint: An argument from culture”

Citizen Energy

On Sunday (18 Sep) we had a special guest give a talk about how citizens installed solar panels on public institutions in Ikoma City, Japan. Kusunoki Tadashi is a boardmember of Citizen Energy Ikoma (市民エネルギー生駒), a citizens group who took the fight against climate change into their own hands by leveraging public space to produce electricity locally. They put solar panels on the rooves of public buildings decreasing the local carbon footprint, and used the profits of the excess electricity sold back to the utility into other public projects. Mr Kusunoki spoke for about 30 minutes telling us about the groups story, its objectives and business model, and the status of the three projects that they have completed so far.

ikoma map

Ikoma, a 200,000 person bedroom town between Osaka and Nara City, has a particularly eco-friendly history. It is aiming to be the most most energy efficient municipality in Japan. Citizen Energy Ikoma (CEI) was founded in 2013 and was the first in Nara Prefecture to execute such an energy initiative. They set out on this program with a few things in mind: First, they wanted the initiative to be citizen-funded. There was to be no money from government agencies or banks, and no corporate interests at play. They collected a lot of small contributions (in about $1000 increments) from private citizens. More than 70% of the contributions were from Ikoma locals. A second point was to involve retirees, to use “Silver Human Resources” (シルバー人材) as Mr Kusunoki put it. They wanted to empower retirees and show how they could give back to younger generations.

CEI worked with the city and secured space on the roof of a building at a local water treatment plant. They installed 273 solar panels at the cost of 17M yen (about $220K CAD). The installation was completed in March of 2014 and produces about 50kW of electricity.

The business plan was developed to extend over a 20 year period. The original citizen donors are able to get a small return (better than bank interest says Mr Kusunoki) on their $1000 investment. Profits from selling electricity back to the electricity utility go into new projects or programs. So far they have paid for signage at the children’s facility, power conditioners for the seniors home, and sponsored a number of environmental education initiatives including workshops for kids to learn how to make solar-powered cars and trains.

The success of the first installation lead to the development of two more facilities. In 2015 a new children’s facility (南こども園) was being built, and CEI was able to install 297 panels on the roof.

CEI also installed 224 panels on an open bank behind a senior’s facility. Both of these installations can produce about 50kW each, bring the combined total of all three facilities to 150kW. This removes about 55,000 kilograms of CO2 out of the air, and saves on about 40,000 barrels of oil per year.

The children’s facility was of particular interest to the CEI. It is an official Emergency Muster Point, meaning in the case of a disaster like an earthquake, it is deemed a safe place for people to retreat to. Having a ready-made energy supply at such a muster point is pragmatic strategy.

Mr. Kusunoki said that the future is bright for the children of Ikoma. They are trying to make Ikoma a model and promote it as the best place to live in the Kansai region. Their goal is to show how empowered citizens can create safe, local energy and contribute to a more resilient distributed energy supply chain in the case of a natural disaster. In the future the CEI is looking at how these initiatives can turn into second careers for retired people. Furthermore, they are exploring more ways having for citizens become local energy producers.

It was a pleasure to have Mr Kusunoki speak to us. It definitely encouraged me to think more about what we could do in our own communities (see my next post Thoughts on Citizen Energy). You can read more about what the CEI is doing in Ikoma here:

OKDG Discussion — Developers and designers as ethical gatekeepers

Me and Stallman at OKDG
Photo c/o Shane Austin

These are the resources for the discussion at OKDG tonight:

For extra reading, I would suggest taking a look at my essay on information politics.

Finally, if you want to learn or discuss more, you know how to get ahold of me.

Embracing the Z-axis — OKDG after action report

“Technology changes society” is a truism but it is always worth asking “how?” At last night’s talk to the Okanagan Developer Group I used my trip to MakerHaus last February as a jumping off point to explore this question in light of recent advancements in the Maker Movement.

Me presenting at OKDG
Photos c/o @jvdwdesigns and @gunsinger. Yes, that is Lenin in the background.

MakerHaus (see my photos here) is a symbol of the democratization of manufacturing. Historically, putting the means of production into the hands of the people has wrought massive changes on society. Digital fabrication and personal manufacturing technologies like 3D printers, CNC machines and laser cutters are the latest iteration of this pattern. To paraphrase Chris Anderson, in the 1980s the Desktop Publishing revolution gave us the PRINT button and changed everything; in the 90s the internet revolution gave us the PUBLISH button and changed everything; now our computers are getting a MAKE button, and it will and change everything.

My talk at the Okanagan Developer Group focused on three dynamics: better tools, better products and the evolution of manufacturing. “Making” is not new. Humans have 200,000 years of evolutionary history as makers. The difference this time round is the new community of makers: typically digital creatives. These people are good at manipulating bits, and now have the power to turn bits into atoms. 30 years of computing heritage is disrupting 200,000 years of traditional making. We are already seeing exaptations from the digital into the physical world. The new makers and their new tools will lead to better products. It is time to apply the Long Tail to manufacturing. Small batch manufacturing means more customization and niche products. Rapid prototyping means tighter iterations in physical product development and more innovation. Similar to the digital world “beta” physical products are now a possibility. We are also seeing the evolution of manufacturing returning to the time of the single craftsperson, able to design and create a complete physical from scratch. Yet this new craftsperson has the power of globalization at their fingertips.

In this new age of digital fabrication and personal manufacturing you can send physical objects over the internet. It will result in changes in patterns of consumption and new design techniques, which we touched on in our discussion last night. Some of the products I introduced included:

However, there will be unintended consequences, and social problems that will need to be solved as 3D printers become more mainstream. We talked about the copyright problem, and the printing of illicit materials such as guns, viruses and drugs. Pollution was another big topic, including the issue of space, and our already huge problem with plastic. Consider when every household has a device that can create stuff at the push of a button, and that overwhelmingly that stuff will be made of plastic.

I closed by encouraging the audience to get involved by learning and doing, for example at OK Makerspace. For those that don’t want to actually make things, there is a lot of opportunity to get involved in the new industrial revolution by thinking about creative solutions to the problems raised. Furthermore I implored the audience to involve their children. The generation before us had to foresight to give us computers. We must do the same for our children.

During the question period the topics of printing food, the advancement of materials science and how 3D printing might change our economic relationship to China came up. It lead to intriguing discussion and I even got to deploy my thinking on what 3D printing and future recycling techniques will mean for Plato’s Theory of Forms. Overall, everyone seemed engaged and the reaction afterwards and on Twitter was encouraging.

Below are some links to resources, products and services that I mentioned in the talk. As usual, feel free to hit me up to learn more, or if you want to discuss these issues.

Makers: The New Industrial Revolution by Chris Anderson (my review here)

New Disruptors interview with Ellie and Mike Kemery of Makerhaus

New Disruptors interview with Chris Anderson

Make Magazine






Speaking at OKDG

(Me talking about the concept behind LTU.)

On Tuesday night I gave a short talk for the Okanagan Developer Group about my experience starting Lining Things Up and 5 topics that often come up when I talk to entrepreneurs. I thought it went pretty well. I wish I could have met with more people afterwards, but there is always next time. This was my first time attending an OKDG meeting, and since I was a presenting I couldn’t mingle as much as I would have liked.

The 5 topics in question:

  1. Starting
  2. Location
  3. Community
  4. Funding
  5. Work/life balance

The shirt in question