Google’s Project Sunroof

Google’s Project Sunroof makes the tricky business of estimating energy savings from a solar panel installation strikingly simple by combining massive datasets and aerial imagery.

The fight against climate changes is a war of economics. Entities at every scale are more motivated to make climate-conscious changes the more those changes benefit the bottom line. Project Sunroof makes that benefit obvious and easy to calculate, replacing a vague sense of doing the right thing with a practical justification. Beyond the big data calculations, Project Sunroof provides information on the solar installation process and will also put you in touch with solar providers in your area. A great example of a massive company helping out the little guy for the greater good.

GOOD Magazine Relaunch

transformation

GOOD Magazine has undergone a transformation recently, refocusing on its mission as a journal for the global citizen. In the nearly 10 years since it’s start, GOOD has been unafraid to try new things, which may have gotten it slightly lost along the way. Now, the global climate has prompted it to go back to its roots and relaunch with renewed focus on featuring the stories and people shaping our world.

The spring and summer journals are carefully considered volumes with a great variety of content. There are single-spread profiles, revealing discussions and even some short-fiction for your enjoyment. The magazines feel a little slim to be quarterly but this may be because they’re also slim on advertising.

page-detail

Aside from some odd design choices (lots of rotated text?) the new GOOD seems to be a great improvement. It’s once again the magazine for people who give a damn. Consider subscribing today.

IDEO Fortnight

fortnight

I didn’t end up applying but I do wish there were more things like IDEO Fortnight. I feel like a lot of designers would be into short, intensive design residencies to stretch and grow their skills. I’ll be keeping an eye out for next year’s incarnation and any similar programs in the mean time.

Turning Points in Climate Change Fight

On yesterday’s Midori House from Monocle 24, guests discussed the outcome of the G7 summit, including the declaration to decarbonize the world economy by the end of the century.

Taken alone this might seem like a vague goal but the program’s guests cite other recent turning points:

  • The world is now adding more capacity for renewable power each year than coal, natural gas, and oil combined. source
  • Solar power prices continue to make advances on the price of fossil fuels. source
  • Germany generated over half its electricity demand from solar for the first time ever on 9 June, 2014. source
  • The US and China made a historic climate change pact last year. source

Octobox

octobox

I can’t recall whose tweet lead me to it (as so often happens) but thank you to whoever it was. I found myself on Octobox’s page on Assembly, the platform for collaboratively creating software, and from there I was hooked. A beautiful, working bookmarking system that championed the importance of users owning their data by storing it all in Dropbox. And since it was on Assembly the potential is there for me to contribute to its success beyond just being a user. So I’m going to jump in and see how I can lend a hand.

Sharing Solar Power

I haven’t gotten the opportunity to work with a client in renewable energy but that doesn’t stop me from thinking about the sorts of things we could build together.

I want to work on a tool that helps owners of solar panels monitor their production and consumption of energy and manage how that energy is sold back to power companies or even shared with friends and neighbors.

Ikea in the UK has started a solar panel program with Hanergy. If and when this comes to the US I’d love to be involved in designing and building some of that software.

Fishackathon

When I heard about the opportunity to spend the night in the National Aquarium working to solve sustainable fisheries challenges I jumped at the chance.

fishackathon2

The inaugural Fishackathon was held across the country at 5 different venues with all teams working problems posed by fish sustainability experts from around the world.

Our team decided to work on a problem posed by USAID and ECOFISH for sustainable fisheries in the Philippines:

Our field enumerators need to be able to collect more accurate data more quickly and more efficiently to be able to monitor more gear landings and cover more ground.

Currently the enumerators (data collectors) travel between landing sites recording catch data on paper, asking fishermen to estimate where various catches were made.

Since we were told the US State Department is planning on providing mobile devices to data collectors in the region we created an Android app to enable them to more easily record data in the field.

fishackathon

Built with PhoneGap and deployed as a native app, the collector can be used with or without an internet connection. Recording data in a digital form means it can be relayed to a central service more easily. The form itself is designed to speed up the data entry process and enhance data with more accurate location data and optional photos of the catch (to identify fish and fear type).

We had a lot of fun creating the app and although we didn't move on to the final stages of the competition we were glad to have contributed something to managing sustainable fisheries. Learn more about what we made on Github.

2014 National Civic Day of Hacking

Over the weekend I participated in Hack for Change Baltimore as a part of this year’s National Civic Day of Hacking.

I went in with a few ideas including tackling Code for America’s Digital Front Door Challenge but ended up working with the talented Anand Thakker on something completely different.

ndoch

Building off of Anand’s initial prototype, we created a free-form exploration tool for BNIA’s neighborhood data. The small multiples allow users to browse the neighborhood indicators by geography.

Since the event, Anand and I have continued to enhance the tool with histograms showing the distribution of values across the map and scatter plots comparing any two data sets. You can also select individual neighborhoods and track them across visualizations.

We're still in the process of building the tool, adding and taking away features, so if you have any ideas for it don't hesitate to get in touch or fork the project on Github.

Dependencies

I hate to say it but with every new, seemingly useful, service I come across I feel a pang of anxiety over whether it’ll still be around in a year.

Sometimes I think I’m being overly cautious. A software as a service model doesn't doom a business to failure. But with each acquisition, security breach and shutdown I become less and less convinced it's a sustainable idea.

I wish the solution were as simple as purchasing and hosting my own instances of existing software but that's rarely an option. Only a few companies offer this (and most never will). Blogging also seems to be the only web task established enough to have generated companies that use this model.

Why is this the case? Are there flaws inherent to distributed software? Is SaaS really a superior model? What can we do to become less reliant on potentially flimsy services?

If you’ve had thoughts along these lines be sure to reply via twitter or email.

Responses

Project Ara

ara

Project Ara really is a phone for the future. With an endoskeleton and customizable modules to attach and swap, this phone epitomizes openness in hardware and future-friendly design. Third party developers can even create components for the phone by following a set of guidelines.

New Deal Design worked on the project and put up an interesting case study.

Project Naptha

bradbury-paste

Project Naptha is a pretty incredible chrome extension that blurs the lines between text and image.

From the project’s website: Project Naptha automatically applies state-of-the-art computer vision algorithms on every image you see while browsing the web. The result is a seamless and intuitive experience, where you can highlight as well as copy and paste and even edit and translate the text formerly trapped within an image.

Writer Pro

Writer Pro from Oliver Reichenstein on Vimeo.

I’m a huge fan of the original iA Writer (and of this amazing video) but Writer Pro falls flat as a significant upgrade. Its four writing modes change the document’s typography and some available features but not much else. I was hoping the writing modes would store different versions of the text in a package so that notes, drafts and final pieces could exist together.

What Gave You That Idea?

This episode of 99% Invisible is especially worth listening to if only to find out how the Geico Caveman commercials have creative roots in the work of Charles Dickens (and his pet bird).

GRID

GRID Labs: 2012 Concept Video from Josh Leong on Vimeo.

When I first came across GRID I was really excited for the potential this strange iPad app held. When it was released I was disappointed that using it required you to log in with Facebook. Now I’m happy to report that that is no longer true. GRID also has a iPhone companion

ScoreKeeper XL

scorekeeper

I’m using ScoreKeeper XL to track who’s reading on screen versus in print in Union Station and on the MARC train. Interestingly this ratio seems pretty constant.


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