tisdag 6 december 2016

The Swedish Energy Agency's "Energy, IT and Design" conference

I'm working in a research project with the most complicated title ever; "Improved energy counceling and energy habits by Quantified Self Assisted Advisory". I mentioned the project briefly in the previous blog post. The internal acronym we use for the project is STEM - which in fact is an abbreviation of the agency that funds the system - The Swedish Energy Agency. Every year in December, they invite representatives from all the projects that are funded by their their "Energy, IT and Design" (EID) research program to a "program conference".

This year's program had presentations from no less than 18 research projects. I could only attend the first day of the conference and thus missed about a third of the presentations. Some of the projects presented are ongoing and some were finished earlier this year (our project is funded until next summer). No less than 5 out of these 18 projects come from KTH (including CESC where I work and Green Leap - "a network for design and sustainable development" that is hosted by CESC). Another 3 out of the 12 project presented during the first day come of of the "Energy Design Studio" at the Interactive Institute Swedish ICT (II) and I think there are many areas where our respective interests and projects overlap! Also, I know all three persons who represented and presented these II projects; Niklas Johansson (acting studio director), Anton Gustavsson and Stina Wessman. I got to know Stina recently when she attended our workshop on HCI and UN's Sustainable Development Goals at the NordiCHI conference at the end of October.

My colleague Björn Hedin is our project leader and he gave a 20-minute presentation of the project (he couldn't attend last year and I presented the project back then). I will not go thought his presentation but just briefly point out that he talked about some of the results from the project such as: 1) the great energy awareness educational tool kilowh.at and some of the results when we tested it on our students, 2) visualizing the indoor temperature by using ambient lighting and 3) "Grönkoll" (≈ Green tracking) for immediate, in-the-store feedback on the energy and CO2 footprint for foodstuff (by scanning barcodes). The latter project relies on a database that has been developed in the project and that is aptly called "Life Cycle Assessment of Food Database" (LCAFDB). Our acronyms are the best! Perhaps most exciting though (also to the audience) was the examples of work we will do this coming spring. Björn mentioned three projects and I'm sure I will come back to some or all of them later on this blog.

I will not summarize the program point by point but will instead discuss a five "extended thoughts" that were awakened during the day.

I attended a lunch seminar/workshop/kick-off at KTH last week (I might come around to write about it on the blog). They asked us to work in groups and discuss possibilities and threats (problems) with the proposed program and my first note said "Flying hither and thither", i.e. that we will fly a lot in our attempts to "save the world". So at that seminar I remember thinking "what if we put an internal price tag on airline tickets that was 2x, 5x or even 10x the regular price?". That would create incentives to fly less and we could use the money we put aside due to that "internal tax" for certain predefined purposes that we agree upon ("good stuff"). This idea came back to me when I listened to one of the Interactive Institute presentations. Electricity (and running water) is so inexpensive that it's hard to justify husbanding it in Sweden. But what if the price was 5x higher and the "extra money" was used/reserved for some specific purpose(s). Say that the money collected is used to lower the rent, i.e. your energy/water bills are 5x higher but the major part of the money collected comes back to your own wallet in the form of decreased rent. You might ask what difference it makes, but it does make a huge difference as your incentives to save electricity and water would skyrocket. It's even possible to collect that money in a housing association and distribute it back in some more or less "equitable" way that creates extra incentives to save, e.g. if you use less electricity than your average neighbor, that neighbor would in some small way subsidize your rent. What exactly "equitable" means in this context needs some additional thinking as one person living in a 100 m2 apartment has better chances of saving electricity compared to four persons living on the same amount of space (despite the fact that they today pay the same rent). Should the number of occupants in an apartment play a part of these calculations or only, say, the raw number of square meters? Again, the exact algorithm could be discussed but I think the principle is really interesting!

Following a discussion I had elsewhere, I proposed that there was a tension between (political) decisiveness and "democracy". Decisiveness would correspond to forcefully showing the direction and getting things done. Democracy would correspond to discussions and individual decisions (think direct democracy). Is curtailing democracy necessary for getting things done? Do note that I do not equate "getting things done" with "getting the right things done", it might also mean that inertia has its uses and that decisiveness can mean that we much more efficiently get the wrong things done. But we still get more things done if we are decisive than if we aren't. We already do trade of democracy versus decisiveness with representative democracy, i.e. when we choose our representatives and they make decisions we might not always agree with (or we might never get things done - which is exactly my point). So my point is that decisiveness and democracy both can have advantages and disadvantages. Donald Trump certainly gives the impression of wanting to be decisive and that would perhaps be ok if not for the fact that much of what he wants to do are the wrong things. But I have on the other heard people say they would not object to being ruled by a benign green dictator... I hope I have managed to make a distinction between "steering" and "freedom" here. Freedom certainly sounds better but it might just mean that everyone can choose freely (like going away on weekend trips by plane every single weekend - which I personally disapprove of), but also that less will be accomplished politically as many people will tend to pull in many different directions at the same time. My insight after listening to some random presentation though was how problematic "nudging" and "persuasive" systems are in the space I have just sketched out. Such systems try to steer people's decision while hiding that it is a form of (mild) steering. The space for manipulation and deception (or of being accused of manipulation and deception) suddenly seemed infinitely large to me. My conclusion is that such attempts harbor very large possibilities of backlashes. Perhaps it's better to confront people with things they don't want to hear ("you are not allowed to fly more this year") rather than trying to nudge them into not flying as much? This reasoning could of course be applied to any area where nudging and persuation is used or has been suggested. Perhaps overtly raising the price of airline tickets (see above) or even outlawing "unnecessary flying" is a better and more fair way to affect change?

One presentation activated some thoughts I formulated last week, at a seminar with my students. Many students realize we need to "do something" about energy, carbon emissions and the climate. But some students also take all practical concrete suggestions ("fly less", "drive less", "eat less meat", "use less energy", "don't develop those kinds of technologies") and put them in a box which they then label "back". The predictable next comment is that "we can't go back" (sometimes completed with some utterly meaningless catchphrase like "The Stone Age didn't end because humans ran out of stones"). It's hard to discuss solutions or indeed to budge someone when every suggestion and every proposal is characterized as "going back". Who wants to "go back" instead of going "forward"? I am here talking about the connotations of the very words themselves - Lakoff & Johnson, Metaphors-we-life-by-wise. (From Wikipedia: "George P. Lakoff ... is an American cognitive linguist, best known for his thesis that lives of individuals are significantly influenced by the central metaphors they use to explain complex phenomena."). "Up" is good, "down" is bad. And "forward" is good while (going) "back" is bad. My conceptual breakthrough here was to adopt the use of the term "overdeveloped" for the kind of affluent society I live in instead of using the more conventional term "developed". The world overdeveloped implies that we have overreached, that we need to find an equilibrium at some "lower" level of consumption (etc.). That might not sound like a big change but it is. What some students (and many others) have termed "going back" can instead suddenly be characterized as "going forward" - problem solved! This way of reframing the way we characterize our way of living and our lifestyles also imply that affluent societies in the Global North can learn important lessons from less affluent societies in the Global South, e.g. place where resources are husbanded due to the fact that they are more scarce. I like that! I will have to think some more on that.

I have heard and I have previously commented on the expression "data is the new oil". This expression got a new take when one project (from II, "Open Energy Playground") used data as design material but the data displayed was just scrolling quickly over the screen (The Matrix-like). "Data" wasn't entries in a database but a flowing river of data. This firehose-like flow of data is of course connected to sensors and Big Data (and Facebook and filter bubbles and personalization and siren servers) but what shook me a little was the insight of data as a running river than than as a huge file cabinet with a near-infinite number of compartments. The question posed by the researcher (Anton Gustavsson) in this project was "how do you combine data from sensors in order to tell a story?". It really struck a chord with me. But what kind of stories can you tell if your building material is raw data from sensors? Anton's example was that you can tell a story of people slacking off during the work week (attentive on Monday, cutting corners on Wednesday and having checked out for the weekend at Friday afternoon). That's a story, I guess, but it's not a very exciting or compelling story. Are all the stories that Big Data will be able to tell us equally meagre and austere? It's hard to see any life-and-death, love-and-hate, good-vs-evil stories that have captured the minds of listeners since the dawn of time. This made me think about the current project course I'm teaching and where my students are working on 11 different project about "The Future of Computer Games/Computer Games of the Future". One group is working specifically with Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, personalization and storytelling/emerging narratives. Their question is how you can use oodles of data about each choice you make in a game and use that data to personalize and enhance the story - a story that has an auteur or many storytellers working together to deliver an experience that still has a beginning, a middle and and end that is amazing and spectacular. Here's their selling project description (the final project will be presented on Friday December 16 - see this webpage for more information - you are welcome to attend!):

"Inspired by today’s shift towards adaptive gameplay, which generates such elements as weather, foes and entire planets depending on the player’s choices, we present the Omnius narrative AI system. Where previous game systems have focused primarily on improving the gameplay within a rigid story, we look to leverage the medium’s interactivity to make for a much more compelling and personalized narrative.

Rather than being directly responsible for a game’s plot, game writers using Omnius instead focus on such broader-scope narrative such as world building and characters. Additionally, they would have to decide which parameters to keep track of in the user’s play style, and how to adapt the game to make it as engaging as possible. With the rules and boundaries set by the designers and writers, Omnious helps players tell a unique and personalized story through their gameplay."

My last reflection came out of a talk that among other things discussed the lack of standards in the smart home. The researchers (from The Swedish Institute of Computer Science, SICS - now SICS Swedish ICT) and everyone else assumed that things start out pretty bad (all the actors have different standards) but they eventually come together over common standards and protocols to exchange information. I see that as some sort of defeat where coordination is only accomplished by adding layers of added complexity on top of something that didn't work originally. The researchers compared this with the nascence of the World Wide Web and the browser wars of the 1990's. Every browser (Netscape Navigator, Internet Explorer etc.) did things differently and it was impossible to write code that would work for several or all browsers. This diversity (sprawl) has later been curtailed - when increasingly complex things have been made possible, standards have been developed that all browsers adhere to (but isn't it the case that there will be now things the browsers can't agree on?). The researchers implied that it takes a decade or perhaps rather two decades for standards to evolve and smart homes/smart electricity has some way to go. We might want to command Apple's Siri to  turn the lights down but her answer today might (metaphorically) be "I can't turn down the lights because the light bulbs are manufactured by Philips and they don't take orders from me". So I was reminded of the story of the tower of Babel recently (don't remember in what context). Building that tower was off to a good start but then later encountered insurmountable problems. Not being able to understand each other any longer, humanity was scattered around the world. I don't know what happened to the tower itself but perhaps we could agree on it "crashing". If not physically collapsing, then at least crashing as a viable project with a future - kind of like a very large and complex software system that has internal problems and that is shut down before it's been launched. The story I hear about WWW/browsers and smart homes is that we are off to a shake start but that they edifice we are building is solidifying as we go along. I have a hard time dressing that up in pictures in my head - it feels like rebuilding a ship that is out at sea and that does not sound like a great way to do things, right? So my question is how to dress up such processes in metaphors or stories. I would preferably like to find a biblical story that can explain how something that works passably later (through much effort and after long delays) step by step works better and better. Moses walking for 40 years in Sinai between leading the jews out of Egypt and taking possession of the promised land has the delay part patted down but how about the "creating-value-out-of-nothing" part. Which reminds me of my colleague Ambjörns idea of using excrement as the raw material for 3D printers. That idea holds the promise of revolutionizing our economic system by literally making it possible to have "shit in, value out".

Over and out by yours truly. Not a great recounting of the program but rather an explosion of ideas that came out of the program conference on "Energy, IT and Design".


söndag 4 december 2016

Master's thesis proposals on ICT & Sustainability (2017)

I have written about the master's thesis activities that I'm involved in several times during the last six months on this blog:

We have now updated our team blog and it has upwards to 25 master's thesis proposals of which around 10 are brand new and the rest are proposals that have updated/brushed up. We have also removed 5-10 old proposals we did not think were that interesting or that aren't as relevant any longer. It is really very nice that many of these thesis proposals come from KTH research projects and from other non-KTH organizations! Although these proposals have been formulated with master's thesis students/projects in mind, I guess some (or perhaps many) could also work for students who will write their bachelor's theses (in pairs) this coming spring.

This blog post is in the end, I guess, basically an public information message (ad) for our new ICT & Sustainability thesis proposals. I will go one step further and here highlight three of the thesis proposals I have personally written.

The first thesis would be done in a research project that I work in and that is called "Design and data for Sustainable Lifestyles – opportunities for change" (SPOC). I'm the project leader together with Cecilia Katzeff. This particular thesis is also very interesting to one of the research project partners - The City of Stockholm.

Eating insects?

Many people think about sustainability when considering what food to eat. There are many reasons for why it makes excellent sense, from a sustainability point of view, to eat insects instead of cows or chickens and many people in other countries actually do. There is now research and practical work being done in Europe to get people to eat insects, for example by producing flour that is made of insects. The greatest challenge is “the disgust factor” but another important challenge is that people just don’t know how to use insects in their cooking. We want you to design a system (a prototype) that suggests suitable matches between different types of insects and types of food (caterpillars are apparently especially suitable to mix with eggs/omelettes). Your task is then to test and evaluate the prototype on a suitable target group of prospective users who care a lot about the environmental consequences of what they eat (we have suggestions of target groups).

This thesis would be done within a research project about food, ICT and critical design and might also involve some travel (for example to Nordic Food Lab in Denmark). The thesis will be done in cooperation with the City of Stockholm who has an interest in making better use of household food waste (which can be used as insect feed).

Please contact Cecilia Katzeff or Daniel Pargman for more info

The second thesis proposal relates to a project I have started and where I currently work with several other researchers (Jerry Mättä, Elina Eriksson, Ambjörn Naevä) in different subprojects. I have written about this project twice on the blog recently (here and here). We also had 60+ students work with this topic in a hefty seminar assignment in mine and Elina's course recently (and this will generate data to the project). Although this thesis proposal did not actually come out of a research project, I have come to realize that it could easily slot in or be assigned to a project I work in and that has the awkwardly long name "Improved energy counceling and energy habits by Quantified Self Assisted Advisory". My colleague Björn Hedin is the project leader and he who pointed out the overlap and the advantages of adapting the proposal to better fit the research project.

Homo Colossus

There are many tools that help you calculated how much CO2 you (and your lifestyle) emits. Instead of calculating how  much CO2 you emit, create a service that calculates how much you would weight if you were a (large) animal that had to eat as much energy that you – through your lifestyle – uses every day. The crucial formula you need to work with is: weight (kg)^3/4 * 0.08135555 = kWh/day. This work represents a way to calculate and visualize the footprint of our lifestyles and would constitute an alternative to Ecological Footprint Analysis and Earth Overshoot DayFor inspiration from other projects of how to visualize energy and carbon emissions, see kilowh.at, carbon.to and SeeEffect.

Please contact Daniel Pargmanfor more info

The first thesis would. I'm the project leader together with Cecilia Katzeff. This particular thesis is also very interesting to one of the research project partners - The City of Stockholm.

The third thesis proposal would again be done in the research project "Design and data for Sustainable Lifestyles – opportunities for change" (SPOC). The thesis proposal is based on my fascination for IBM Chef Watson and the idea is basically to add (explore) another (sustainability) layer on top of the existing IBM Chef Watson service. Here's the proposal and I follow it up with some added thoughts about Watson including my inspiration for this thesis proposal.

Sustainable IBM Chef Watson

How can “IBM Chef Watson” be adapted to promoting sustainable food consumption practices? Today IBM Chef Watson uses state of the art AI to create novel recipes on the fly. Chef Watson combines foodstuffs that might not necessarily seem to go well together into recipes that actually do appeal to human taste buds with the help of a large database of recipes together with an “understanding” of what chemical flavour compounds go together. How can today’s service be developed by adding a “sustainability filter” (layer) to the software that will encourage more sustainable food practices through its choice of proposed recipes and/or by suggesting more sustainable foodstuffs as default alternatives? The thesis could explore this at a more conceptual level with an emphasis of interviewing different stakeholders (households, companies) or alternatively explore the concept by developing mock-ups and/or functional prototypes. 

Possible organisations to work with: Coop, IBM, Ericsson, Telia. 

Please contact Daniel for more info

I first heard about IBM Chef Watson when I listened to a podcast, New Tech City, in April 2015. The interesting thing was that two different podcasts worked together to try out IBM Chef Watson and they then recoded two different podcasts, one with a focus on the technology (New Tech City) and one with a focus on food/cooking (Sporkful). Here's how IBM Chef Watson was described by New Tech City:

"Basically, Watson takes everything scientists know about flavor and taste, and turns that knowledge into a recipe generator beyond the scope of human creativity. ... Developers built a system fluent in food chemistry, "hedonic psychophysics" (or "what we think tastes good"), and international cooking styles, then uploaded 9,000 recipes from the archives of Bon Appetit. They taught Watson to incorporate human feedback into its process, and worked with chefs from the International Culinary Institute to turn it into a viable product"

Other resources for this thesis are the articles that have been written about IBM Chef Watson in the Bon Appétit magazine. Yet another resource is the IBM Chef Watson cook book, "Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson: Recipes for Innovation from IBM & the Institute of Culinary Education" and perhaps also this book about the more general concept that the service builds on ("Cognitive Cooking" which is part of the more general concept "Cognitive computing"), e.g. "Smart Machines: IBM's Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing".

See our team blog for more info on other thesis proposals in ICT & Sustainability!

torsdag 1 december 2016

Computing within Limits 2017 (call for papers)


Yes! What you have all been waiting of just arrived - the Call For Papers (cfp) for the Third Workshop on Computing within Limits is now available on the ACM Limits website (http://acmlimits.org/2017/)! From the cfp:

"LIMITS aims to foster research on the impact of present or future ecological, material, energetic, and/or societal limits on computing and computing research to respond to such limits. [...] A goal of this community is to impact society through the design and development of computing systems in the abundant present for use in a future of limits and/or scarcity."

The most important dates for the workshop (conference) are:

  • Paper submission deadline: March 1, 2017
  • Paper reviews available: March 19, 2017
  • Camera-ready paper deadline: April 10, 2017
  • Workshop (conference): June 22-23, 2017 in California

Do note that since it's December 1 today, you have exactly three months from today to prepare you Limits submission! There is a very high chance that there will be one more day's worth of events either in the form of an optional workshop before or an informal Hoffice event after the main event. Do also note that we have accepted a few remote presenters each year who do not need to attend the Limits workshop in person.

I have been and am still heavily involved in organizing this workshop and it is one of the main landmarks during my academic year. This workshop is where some of my most exciting ideas are born and presented before they later make their way into other papers and other venues. Something really great is that all the papers from Limits 2015 and Limits 2016 are available online (2015, 2016) and that the workshop has been organized under the auspices of ACM since this year (2016). That means all the accepted papers are available in ACM's Digital Library and that they are indexed and counted by Google Scholar etc.

I you want to know more about Limits, do check out the Limits 2016 website as well as the thorough and very long blog post I wrote about Limits 2016.

One interesting facts about Limits is that the number of organizers is steadily climbing; from 7 in 2015 to 9 in 2016 and up to the 13 organizers for the upcoming 2017 workshop. If this series continues we will be able to fill up the workshop with organizers a few years from now...

Since I submitted no less than three papers to the CHI 2017 conference and reviewed another 5 papers I have this year noticed that the term "Collapse informatics" is relatively well-known (or at least not unknown) in the CHI community (or at least in the Sustainable HCI community). It does however seem that that community has not yet caught up with the fact that Collapse informatics now continues to exist under the moniker 'Computing within Limits'.

tisdag 29 november 2016

The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency visits CESC


We (CESC) organized a full-day dog-and-pony show for the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency  ("Naturvårdsverket") recently. (It in fact happened the better part of two weeks ago but I've been too busy to write about it until now.) The Environmental Protection Agency were interested in CESC's activities and had gotten in touch with us and we welcomed them by putting together a one-day program for their visit (together with OpenLab who held a practical workshop about ideation). It was more specifically their department for "analysis and research" that came to visit as part of their internal "training/further education". The department for analysis and research "is responsible for maintaining an overview of the status of the environment and the progress being made in efforts relating to the environment. It is also responsible for coordinating environmental research and environmental monitoring."

The backbone of the activities during the day was (again) a "ConverStation" exercise. I wrote about ConverStations recently so I am not going to explain it again and there is also some more (basic) information here (including an instruction video). I do have to say that the ConverStation format really shone in this setting though with 7 tables/topics and around 5 guests per session. There were in fact so many guests (70 or 80) that we had to have a morning and an afternoon session. Half the guests chose between seven ConverStation presentation (they could choose three each) while the other half attended the OpenLab thingy, before they switched. That means that some brave colleagues of mine had no less than six ConverStation presentations that day and I can easily understand why some were exhausted by the end of the day. These were the presentations that were held:

Full-day presentations:
- Tina Ringenson & Mattias Höjer: Planning the smart city to decrease environmental impacts. Lessons learned from six cities
- Miriam Rivera: Is the sharing economy sustainable?
- Elina Eriksson & Daniel Pargman: ICT and the UN Sustainable Development Goals
- Dag Lunden (Telia) & Jens Malmodin (Ericsson): Energy and carbon emissions from the Swedish ICT, telecom and media sectors 1990-2015 and beyond.
- Göran Finnveden: Beyond GDPScenarios for sustainable societies

Half-day presentations:
- Åsa Svenfelt & Yevgeniya Arushanyan: Second order environmental effects: what are they and how can they be assessed?
- Cecilia Katzeff: The EcoPanel, an eco-feedback visualization
- Mario Romero: Mixed reality Stockholm
- Jonas Åkerman: Sustainable Accessibility and Mobility Services

There was even a replacement topic should one or more presenters turn ill (now that's advance planning!):
- Mattias Höjer: Methane Maps – sensing gas leaks through google street-view

Me and my colleague Elina manned a ConverStation and talked about "ICT and the UN Sustainable Development Goals" i.e. the same topic we organized a workshop on at the NordiCHI conference a month ago. Elina took the morning session (while I was teaching) and then handed over her (physical, printed) slides to me before leaving.

It turns out The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency were really happy about their visit and I think it led to many new contacts between my colleagues and our visitors. The KTH online magazine Campi wrote a text about their visit (in Swedish); "Environmental researchers inspired the Environmental Protection Agency". Closer to home, two really cool things came out of this event:

1. The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency are the "guardians" of  Sweden’s 16 environmental quality objectives. These objectives were adopted by the Swedish Parliament in 1999 and they constitute “a promise to future generations of clean air, a healthy living environment, and rich opportunities to enjoy nature”. The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency was earlier this year asked to go through and map Sweden's 16 environmental quality objectives to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals and The Very Person who did this (just this past summer) came to listen to my presentation in the afternoon. His name is Hans Wradhe and that's an excellent contact to have when (not if) we need to find out more about the outcome of this work of his.

2. Elina talked to Marie Denward both before and during the event. Marie is an acquaintance of ours who has recently started to work at the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency and a several things have already come out of this; two master's thesis proposals (written in Swedish) as well as current discussions about a larger task that our students can work with in our upcoming master's level course "Sustainable ICT in Practice". The course will be given for the first time ever in the beginning of next year so we are in a hurry to plan the course. The possibility to being able to weave in a task for/together with the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency is very exciting.

söndag 27 november 2016

Do engineering students approach their studies strategically?


One week ago my colleague, Maria Svedin, defended her ph.d. thesis, "Do excellent engineers approach their studies strategically?: A quantitative study of students' approaches to learning in computer science education" (available here).

Maria was my next door neighbor until earlier this year when I moved from the sixth to the fifth floor. We are both at the same department (Media Technology and Interaction Design - MID) but we do not belong to the same "team"( I belong to MID4Sustainability - MID4S) and the reason I write about her thesis is because I was the chairman for the dissertation ceremony - for the first time in my life.

Parts of the procedure of presenting/defending a ph.d. thesis is scripted and other parts are very free. It is specified that the faculty opponent should query and discuss the thesis with the respondent (the ph.d. student), but the actual contents of that discussion is naturally left open. Still, I was the guardian and the master of the scripted parts - making sure everybody understood their parts in the ceremony and that things moved along the way the were supposed to.

The most curious part of my instructions was a sentence where it stated that my responsibility was to make sure the dissertation was carried through "in the way it was supposed to" ["genomförs så som avsetts"]. The instructions also left a lot of power to me so it could in fact be possible to claim that whatever way I saw fit to carry through the dissertation was - due to the powers that had been vested in me - the way it was supposed to be carried through.

In practice I did very little that differed from other dissertations I have attended. One thing did however differ. One of the studies/articles included in the thesis discussed the results of making the contents of one course "gender-neutral". Due to media attention, that study generated almost-predictable "excited" online discussions where people who were clueless (e.g. had not read the study) still had a lot of opinions about issues pertaining to gender. There was a slight worry that someone would turn up at the dissertation and make a mess so I, as chairman, early on emphasize what the ceremony looked like, what roles different persons had (my role as chairman and the roles of the respondent, the opponent and of the faculty committee) and at what point the general audience was allowed ask questions (i.e. late in the ceremony). Nothing of that sort happened though but it's better to be prepared than to be taken by surprise.

Maria has had no less than four advisors and her main advisor has been my colleague Olle Bälter. The other three advisors are Stefan Hrastinski, Martha Cleveland-Innes and Johan Thorbiörnson. The opponent was Arnold Pears (Department of Information Technology, Uppsala University) and the grading committee consisted of Tomas Jungert, (Department of Psychology, Lund University), Päivi Kinnunen (Educational specialist, Aalto University) and Aletta Nylén (Department of Information Technology, Uppsala University). Here's the abstract to Maria's thesis:

This thesis is about students’ approaches to learning (SAL) in computer science education. Since the initial development of SAL instruments and inventories in the 70’s, they have been used as a means to understand students’ approaches to learning better, as well as to measure and predict academic achievement (such as retention, grades and credits taken) and other correlating factors. It is an instrument to measure a student’s study strategies – not how “good” a student is.

A Swedish short version of Approaches and Study Skills Inventory for Students (ASSIST) was used to gather information on whether we, through context and content, encouraged sustainable study behaviour among our students. ASSIST was used in two distinct situations: 1) Evaluation and evolvement of an online programming course design, and 2) Engineering education in media technology and computer science in a campus environment where approaches to learning has been evaluated and studied over time during the five year long programmes. Repeated measurements have been analysed against factors predicting academic achievement, and have been evaluated on a cohort level (not individual) in order to clarify patterns rather than individual characteristics.

Significant for both projects was that a surface approach to learning correlated negatively with retention. Students who adopted a combination of deep and strategic approach to learning performed better in terms of grades, ECTS credits completed and perceived value of the education. As part of developmental tools it can be beneficial to use ASSIST at a group level in order to see what kind of approach a course design or a programme supports among the students.

Keywords: Approaches to learning, computer science engineering education, Computing education research, online learning

fredag 25 november 2016

Daniel Sapiens


I've changed my name. I've always only been "Daniel Pargman". It has not been a great source of concern for me, at least not for a couple of decades, but I did suffer some mild phantom pains during my childhood due to the fact that I didn't even have a measly second name (not to mention having a third). I was slightly jealous and it definitely felt like everybody else had at least two names.

My brother had a children's book about "Tiger Truls" and he want my second name to be Truls when I was born - but my parents vetoed it. Truls is apparently an old viking name (harking back to the name of the god Thor). Partly to compensate for my own lack of additional names, my kids each have three names...

So I applied to change my name on a whim and asked to add another name at the end of the summer. I can't really remember my train of thoughts but it had something to do with distinguishing myself from other Daniels and also about distinguishing myself from future androids and robots (or making sure the aliens will really know I'm human when they come) so I applied for adding "Sapiens" to my name. Daniel Sapiens Pargman. Why settle for a new name instead of forming a new species? I told my wife I wanted to add another name and she supported it - but her suggestion was "Valentino". I believer that I did not, at the time, tell her I had already submitted my application. When I told her, she at first didn't believe me, laughed and thought I was joking. As it happens, I got the letter the better part of two months ago but it was very nondescript and I must have missed it when I paid the bills last month so I only saw it a few days ago.

Sapiens means "wise". I guess this also means I have to read the hugely popular book "Sapiens: A brief history of humankind" that Yuval Noah Hariri has written about me. Also, my new name shouldn't be pronounced as two distinct and separate words but rather the same way you pronounce "Homo sapiens", i.e. as if you almost treat it as one single word; homosapiens. So that's danielsapiens to you - but I don't expect to actually be called anything but "Daniel" except at special occasions (haven't figured out which yet).

The one question I ponder right now is how to use my name professionally. The most pressing question is if should continue to author scientific papers as "Daniel Pargman" (safe), as "Daniel S. Pargman" (nondescript) or as "Daniel Sapiens Pargman" (out there). What I wonder is if scientific search engines (e.g. Google Scholar) will fail to understand that "Daniel Pargman" and "Daniel Sapiens Pargman" is one and the same author. It might be similar to the challenge that (mostly) women face when they marry and take the name of their husband, but then again it might not. I have, after all, not changed my family name but rather only added another name to my surname. Still, could this create "complications" with attribution and recognition? If anybody has any ideas or know the answer, do drop me a line - for example by writing a comment to this blog post.

PS. I just became aware of the first task-and-expense that follows from having changed my name. I have to upgrade (renew) my driver's license so that it reflects my change of names. A small cost (20 USD) and I also have to get a photo and fill out some paperwork.

torsdag 17 november 2016

Homo colussus' energy slaves (paper)

I have recently written about five papers I have submitted to the conference "Energy and Society" (#1#2#3#4#5), but I in fact also submitted a sixth paper to the conference. This is the sixth and last paper submitted and this is also the one paper (abstract) I have written all by myself, even though it builds on the same project idea that recently generated an abstract that Jerry Määttä and me submitted to the academic track at the upcoming (August 2017) 75th World Science Fiction Convention.

The paper that Jerry and me wrote ("Estranging Energy: Teaching Abstract Concepts through Making Strange") is more theoretical and it discusses the "hows" and the "whys" of using images and metaphors to explain abstract concepts for teaching purposes. This paper instead cuts to the chase and presents and delves into the "hows" and the "whys" of the two metaphors in themselves, e.g. what is an "Energy Slaves" and how big is each "Homo Colossus"?

Here's the background: I have used the concept of "Energy Slaves" in my graduate course about ICT and Sustainability for several year. I know that a concept that include the S-word can be perceived as controversial (especially in an American context), but I find it less problematic in Sweden and it's a really useful way to explain how much energy we - as individuals living in an affluent society - use, as well as the blessings that (fossil) energy (sources) have brought humanity in terms of sheer power. It's possible to substitute "energy slaves" for "horsepower" at a rate of 10-to-1 if the concept is not to your liking.

This past spring I discovered William Catton's idea that each of us is a "Homo Colossus". I read about it in a book chapter of his from 2012 and also searched backwards to 30-year old articles of his where he first formulated and developed the concept. I immediately fell in love with it and later, after having turned it inside out, decided to also use it in our education. The two terms can be related to each other and exploring and figuring out their deep meaning as well as how the fit together is the name of the game of this paper.

Title: Homo colossus’ energy slaves 

Author: Daniel Pargman

Keywords: estrangement, defamiliarization, energy slaves, homo colossus

AbstractFossil fuels account for over 80% of mankind's primary energy supply. This is problematic for several reasons (climate change etc.) and we thus urgently need to phase them out. But how do we convince people in more affluent countries that much will have to change, perhaps including cherished aspects of their taken-for-granted lifestyles? How do we show that what we have come to perceive as “normal” in fact is anything but, that we use extravagant amounts of energy and that this eventually - and perhaps sooner rather than later - must come to an end?

We propose using concepts from literature and Science Fiction studies to help free people from the complacency that restricts our imagination as routines guide us through our everyday lives. Terms such as Shklovsky’s (1917) “ostranenie” (estrangement), Brecht’s “Verfremdung” (alienation) and “defamiliarization” (Bell, Blythe and Sengers 2005) can help us make that which is invisible visible.

We specifically propose the use of two strong concepts to help us visualize our extravagant use of energy, namely the concept of “energy slaves” (Nikiforuk 2014) and the idea that each of us is a “homo colossus” (Catton 1986, 1987). Each of us would be colossal if our extrasomatic use of energy - which is many times larger than the energy we acquire from the food we eat - instead was imagined fueling a creature that physically ingests and metabolises the same amounts of energy we use in our daily lives (heating our homes, driving our cars, flying on vacation trips etc.).

This paper illustrates how even the poorest of us nowadays have an oversized ecological footprint, but how the richest 1% or 10% on Earth are creatures of mind-boggling proportions. This paper is thus primarily a pedagogical contribution that frames mankind’s energy use in a historical and interspecies perspective.

onsdag 16 november 2016

The future of computer games * 11 (course)

I should probably have written about our Future of Media course and this year's theme "The Future of Computer Games"/"Computer Games of the Future" some time ago. Our students were divided into project groups more than a month ago based on a nifty if slightly complicated system that takes students' preferences into account but that at the same time is not ruled by and can not (easily or at all) be "gamed" by them.

Last week we had our "mid-crit", a practice we have adopted from architecture educations and where students pitch their ideas and get feedback about halfway into their project. Here are part of the instructions for the students:

At the mid-crit, you should [...] present:

- Your group's fundamental ideas, concepts, logic, business models, scenarios, vision etc.

- Describe work you have done in the group to support your ideas, concepts, vision (etc.) in terms of reading literature, collecting materials (or planning to do so) etc.

- Please also say a few worlds about your ideas for a "design representation" that demos/visualizes your concept and that you will use during the final presentation (see further the course PM) 

Do note that the emphasis is on the soundness of your concept and your ideas. A successful presentation and a benign reception can be regarded as a go-ahead to continue your work on the path you have (already) taken. Another alternative is of course that you get feedback that encourages you to veer some from the direction you are heading in (ranging from timid suggestions and fun ideas to forceful "recommendations" that you most certainly should take into account after the mid-crit).

After the mid-crit, project groups have to start their work on various deliverables within the course. One deliverable is a public presentation in front of a large audience on December 16 at 13-16 - Welcome! (More information to follow - here!)

As of a months ago we have 11 different project groups and I list all of these projects below in no particular order:

Project groups:

------------ Gaming culture (now: Virtual Companion - VC) ------------

People will play more games and become attached to gaming characters. Based on mixed reality technologies, you will have your favorite gaming character by your side to express yourself and your passion for gaming.

Keywords: virtual companion, gaming culture, companionship, cosplay, fandom

------------ Games and ads (now: ioco) ------------

The future of games and ads is “ioco”; effective, target-oriented Ad displays through hologram-like, branded 3D projections around the city. The installments displays individualized, customer-specific ads that cater to the user's current needs.

Keywords: 3D projections, branded advertisement, interactive games, geolocated marketing, discount

------------ Gamification in everyday life (now: Kitchen Kombat) ------------

Kitchen Kombat is gamification of cooking. It encourages users to have fun while learning how to become better at cooking by introducing game elements such as game modes (task completion and multiplayer competition), augmented reality and audio instructions, instant feedback, experience points for unlocking new features and ranking.

Keywords: gamification, kitchen, combat, cooking, socializing

------------ Pervasive games (now: Magic Run) ------------

Run around in the most wonderful place that you can imagine: the real world. It just requires a little magic to turn it into a place full of miracles that you can explore on your favorite running routes. Turn your exercise into an adventure where you jump to reach floating stars, duck to avoid lava balls, stomp evil plants into the ground and where you run as fast as you can to catch the white rabbit.

Keywords: pervasive games, smart street sports, exergame, fitness, augmented reality

------------ E-sports broadcasting (now: HoloSport) ------------

Use wearable glasses/lenses to create a mixed reality version of the e-sports game right on the table in front of you. Watch the action from above or move around the table to change your perspective and watch the game from different angles. HoloSport will change the way people watch eSport and help spread eSport as entertainment.

Keywords: mixed reality, eSport, entertainment, social

------------ Games and learning (now: MOSYS) ------------

MOSYS bridges the gap between governmental institutions and first-person shooters. Through the integration of a moral systems into first-person shooters, MOSYS teaches behaviors beyond the killing of enemies.

Keywords: moral systems, prosocial, impact learning, educational games

------------ Storytelling and game writing (now: Omnius) ------------

Adaptive gameplay generates game elements such as weather, foes and entire planets based on the player’s choices. The Omnius narrative AI system leverages the interactivity of the game medium to make for a more compelling, personalized and unique narratives. Game writers using Omnius focus on broader-scope narrative such as world building and character development.

Keywords: artificial intelligence, personalized, emerging narrative, software, framework

------------ Movement-based games (now: ME Gaming) ------------

The entire body will be involved in future movement based games. Sensors, holograms and virtual reality technologies will cost less and exist in every home. Advanced technology scans and reacts on your body's every movement. Our future dance game offers a game experience that is immersive and interactive and can teach you to dance or to battle your friends no matter what level you are on.

Keywords: movement, dancing, gaming, sensors, hologram, drones

------------ Indie games (now: Tipi Studios) ------------

Tipi Studios is a fictional future indie game studio in a tough marketplace and where it is difficult to stand out from the crowd, reach an audience while simultaneously keeping the studio afloat. By visiting Tipi Studios you'll learn how this future indie game studio deals with marketing, financing, time management in successful ways.

Keywords: indie game, financially sustainable development

------------ Mixed reality boardgames (now: Uniboard) ------------

Uniboard is an all-in-one game board which includes a light and touch-sensitive screen, think bendable-screen playing cards, tangible digital dice and holographic figurines. Uniboard can save, resume and share the current game state effortlessly and can host innumerable games through a game store. Uniboard will revolutionize the way we play board games together.

Keywords: universal boardscreen, light sensitive surface, holographic technologies, game master assistant, togetherness

------------ Accurate-sensing games (now: SenseX) ------------

Accurate and efficient digital sensors will help create a market for social sensor-based games. Team adventure games like Laserdome or Escape room are popular after work and birthdays activities and such venues will provide a wide variety of sensor equipment, enabling exciting team adventure games that utilize heart rate monitors, electrodermal activity sensors, accelerometers and indoor positioning systems.

Keywords: social sensor-based games, collaborative gaming, body sensors, augmented reality, computer moderation.

tisdag 15 november 2016

Coalworld: Envisioning a world with half the oil (paper)


I have recently written about four papers I have submitted to the conference "Energy and Society" (#1#2#3#4), but I in fact also submitted a fifth paper to the conference. This paper is time-wise in-between a journal paper we are already working on (the first, relatively polished 10.000-word draft was submitted at the end of October) and a journal article we are planning to write for another upcoming special issue. The abstract below could almost be the overarching programmatic explanation that sets both of these two (and several future) articles into a larger "story arc" of planned articles on this topic.

At the time that the conference in question will be held (April 2017), our first article will be finished and the first draft of the second article will have been written, so we would prefer just to bring these articles to the conference and hand them out rather than writing yet another, third paper. It is at this point not clear to us exactly what is expected of us should our contribution (the abstract below) be accepted for presentation at the conference.

Anyway, here's the background: No less than six persons are already working on the first paper about "Coalworld" - an alternative world where there ever only was half the oil that existed in our world ("Oilworld"). These six persons are Daniel Pargman, Elina Eriksson, Mikael Höök, Joshua Tanenbaum, Marcel Pufal and Josefin Wangel. Our first draft is under review to a special issue on "Narratives and storytelling in energy and climate change research" (in the journal Energy Research & Social Science). We cross our fingers and hope for the best.

We are right now planning for the second article. The new article might not have exactly the same authors (authorship as well as the order might naturally vary in the various articles). Right now only me and Mikael Höök are working on (planning for) the new project, but more people will probably be brought on later, when it's time to get serious about writing.

Fun fact: We call the project that spans the various articles "Coalworld" and we have decided to make the utmost of it and include the word "Coalworld" in the title of each piece of output from the project.

Coalworld: Envisioning a world with half the oil

Authors: Daniel Pargman and Mikael Höök

Keywordscontrafactual history, peak oil, defamiliarization, infrastructure 

AbstractChanges in energy infrastructure are slow and tough. Sevaried’s law (1970) states that “the chief source of problems is solutions” and energy infrastructure decision taken today are dependent on (sometimes lousy) decisions that were taken decades ago and they will furthermore have (partially unforeseen) implications for decades ahead. Being weighed down by the path-dependence of past decisions does not only restrict our choices today and tomorrow but also limits our thinking and our imagination of possible solutions - including perfectly fine solutions in paths not taken that still might be applicable or at least relevant to take into account in the here-and-now.

In an attempt to widen the boundaries of the probable, the plausible, the possible and the preferable (Amara 1981, Bell & Olick 1989, Bell 2003), to defamiliarize ourselves from the taken-for-granted (Shklovsky 1917, Bell et. al. 2005) and to shatter the shackles that limit our imagination (Tanenbaum et. al. 2016), we are working on a series of articles that are based on a thought experiment. The Coalworld project explores future energy transitions from fossil fuels by placing them in the past. The starting point of the Coalworld project is the simple contrafactual (Ferguson 2000, Todorova 2015) statement “what if there ever only was half the oil in the ground when we started to use it 150 years ago?” E.g. what if there ever only was 1 instead of 2 trillion barrels of oil available in the ground back in the 19th century (Deffeyes 2006, Campbell 2013). This initial geological change then sets a deviation-amplifying spiral (Maruyama 1963, Sproull & Kiesler 1992) into motion and where peak oil would have happened several decades ago. We are exploring probable, plausible and possible consequences of such a scenario in a series of articles about Coalworld.

måndag 14 november 2016

Literary Salon 2.0

I helped organize our first "Literary Salon 2.0" one week ago. It is not an activity at my job but rather something we do in our free/leisure time and that we plan to do once per month. There are four (or probably rather six) organizers and we hope to have around 15 participants/discussants at each such meetings. It's enough for each organizer to invite only one or two persons for the event to be full so don't be sorry if you haven't been invited (I'm sorry about it anyway). What you should do instead is organize your own literary salon. I'll tell you how we did it:

I stated my interest in organizing a Literary Salon (2.0) on Facebook half a year ago. A few people expressed interest in helping out. We met over lunch and discussed what what we wanted to accomplish and how to go about to organize it. We wanted to have monthly meetings and planned for them to start in September. That didn't happen, we had our first meeting in November and will have one more meeting this year and one meeting per month during the spring.

Since I work at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, I meet a lot of researchers in my day job and the idea was to make sure this was not a gathering of only researchers, despite the fact that the majority of the organizers are (happen to be?) researchers.

We now have a deal with a cafe that closes at 18.00. We get to hang there between 18.30 and 21.00 without paying for using their facilities, but, we have also promised that we will bring 15 guests who will eat dinner and have a coffee to "make up for" the effort and the costs of keeping the cafe open for us.

We will have a topic that we will discuss at each meeting, but the topic for the first meeting was to discuss what we wanted to "charge" the concept of a Literary Salon 2.0 with. What are our expectations of a Literary Salon 2.0 and what do we want to get out of such a gathering? What kind of topics will we discuss and who will go about choosing them?

The idea is to choose a topic for each meeting and to prescribe a "text" (could be a podcast or a documentary movie) that we should all read in preparation for the meeting. I chose the text for the first meeting, an excerpt from sociologist Ray Oldenburg's book "The great good place: Café, coffee shops, community centers, beauty parlors, general stores, bars, hangouts, and how they get you through the day" (1989/1997). We read the preface to the second edition and chapter 2, "The character of third places". The term "third place" is Oldenburg's term for a place that is not home (1st place) and not work (2nd place) but a "a home away from home". It's basically a hangout where the regulars meet. I get phantom pains when I read about it due to the fact that I would like to but don't have access to such a place. But nor do the majority of people nowadays. Worse, I don't really know if I would frequent such a place even should there be one just around the corner - I feel like I'm too busy to pass by a joint (or such) every day to check in on the ongoings of "the gang" - but who knows? The closest I've been to being part of the phenomena Oldenburg describes was when I was part of the "in" group at the Student Nation I belonged to at Uppsala University for a couple of years during my undergraduate studies.

When I looked up Oldenburg's book on Amazon just for the purpose of linking to it (above), I noticed that Oldenburg edited a book in 2002 called "Celebrating the Third Place: Inspiring Stories About the "Great Good Places" at the Heart of Our Communities". I did not know about that book until literally just a minute ago.

A literary salon is however different from the hangouts Oldenburg writes about, but I still thought his extensive list of functions and characteristics of third places was interesting and a Literary Salon could potentially - at least partly - fulfill some of those same functions.

The meeting (Literary Salon 2.0) went fine and I do believe that everyone who attended would like to come back to the second Salon in December. We now have a Facebook group but the requirement for joining is to first have attended a F2F meeting at Literary Salon 2.0.

For the second meeting, my suggestion (which is being discussed right now) is that we should discuss the topic "Trump: What now?". I think there is a need to discuss how we should handle the upcoming Trump presidency intellectually as well as psychologically.