Monday, May 21, 2007

London is Greener

Financial Times' Weekend columnist and author of Undercover Economist, Tim Harford, confirms my earlier claim that urban planning with good transportation systems can provide better energy security, where security can also come in the form of being greener.

I wrote my note lamenting the lack of energy security and urban planning with adequte public transportation in California, one of the largest economies in the world and one of the poorest places when it comes to good public transportation, and yet one of the places that has the greatest ambition to have cities as green as its environ. The only trouble is that you cannot be green with so many cars and so many roads and so few efficient (and nonexistent) public transportation networks.

This is what Harford writes (FT, May 18, 2007):

The Office for National Statistics reports that Londoners produce much less household waste than anywhere else in the UK. From the same source I learn that London’s households are the most likely to have no cars, and the least likely to have two or more cars. Even before the congestion charge came into force few Londoners commuted by car.

London’s Mayor’s office informs me that London emits 40 per cent less carbon dioxide a person than the national average - which would be less than half the rate of ”carbon neutral” Ashton Hayes. All this from a city that is hugely dynamic, innovative and, frankly, disgustingly rich.

It is true that these figures do not include the environmental cost of producing products elsewhere and shipping them to London. That would be a more telling omission if the rest of the country was growing its food in the back garden, but the truth is that most UK citizens fill their houses with products produced elsewhere. They just have bigger houses to fill.

London, like other big, dense cities, is good for the planet. That fact seems to surprise people. After all, cities are polluted places.

...London’s environmental performance comes naturally. My in-laws live in the Lake District in a house that is twice as large as mine with half as many occupants; they drive into town to pick up the morning paper. We travel around by bicycle or walk pushing our kids in a baby buggy because a car is impractical. We are enormously greener than they, but not because we’re more virtuous nor because we’re poorer. We’d like a bigger house, but that costs too much in London. A fancy car would be a waste of money because we’d rarely use it. Economic necessity, rather than deeply held principles, compels us to be green.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Design of Paper as Technology

Back in April of 2005, Robert MacMillan of The Washingtoon Post commented on a blog entry I had written earlier praising paper and books for their "user-interface" qualities and the durability and mobility of content they transmit. Even farther back, in 2001, Knut Nærum wrote a little comedy about the book as technology (of medieval times) performed by Øystein Backe (helper) and Rune Gokstad (desperate monk). You can find the 2001 act, originally taken from the Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) show, "Øystein og jeg," on Youtube and on Boreme.

Neghar-Ghari Exhibition

A scene from Neghar-ghari Art Exhibition, Tehran.

For more photos from the exhibition, see here and here.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Social Identity, Status and Furniture

I have written about comfort and its context, referring to work by Galen Cranz. Here is another quote from Cranz' book, The Chair, which relates furniture to social identity:
And the home is the place where people communicate their social identity. This is connected not just to income but to what work one does for a living, how one chooses to spend money, one's educational level, travel experience, family and religious affiliations. Such status was once revealed in public by one's dress and accent; but increasingly over the last two centuries, starting with the Dutch, it has been expressed by how one furnishes the home--how much and what kind of furniture, the quality and symbolism of fabrics (draperies and upholstery), carpets, paintings, sculpture and other art work, sporting trophies, travel mementos, musical equipment (including stereos and CDs), books and now, TV, video and computers.

The Context of Comfort

A Way of Sitting: Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Ghandi

In an earlier blog entry, I argued that the primary purpose of end-use technology was to close certain kinds of temporospatial gaps.

(By "use," I mean an every-day, every-person "end use," not some "end use" which is internal to technology production itself.)

In the commentary that followed, Madhan Kumar Balasubramanian noted that some technology was simply to provide comfort regardless of any temporospatial conditions. I noted that comfort was subjective and supplanted the "comfort" exception by noting that there were tools that were simply for play, say the soccer ball, but still they served in some sense to fill a temporospatial gap of a certain kind. For example, play introduces a different experience of time as it passes. When noting that "comfort" was a subjective criteria I only gave examples that were somewhat marginal but I could remember that I had read something about the subjectivity of comfort in Galen Cranz' The Chair: Rethinking Culture, Body, and Design. (Consider listening to the NPR interview with Cranz about her book.)

Cranz notes how comfort only finds meaning in a specific context.

When chairs were derived from the classical orders of architecture, the unyielding, vertical back was retained. Some judge that this strategy produced uncomfortable furniture. However, for the purpose of maintaining alertness, unprightness has proved the most comfortable position over time. For the kinds of social and political functions staged in such rooms, altertness was undoubtedly appropriate and desired, and this chair style supported that purpose.

Otherwise, it may often be much more comfortable to lay down, walk, run or even swim than to sit upright.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Blogs, Layouts and Designs

I have started a number of other blogs on

My purpose has been to experiment with other blogging services and learn about user experience.

Originally, I had a few and now there are a dozen or more. They were and are all experimental. Managing the layouts of these blogs had become a headache. I was trying to figure out how to add hosted material and feeds and each had their own model. So, currently, I'm experimenting with the layout management tools that the new service provides.

Recently, Google consolidated's access management with access management for other Google services. Furthermore, has taken a large step in rationalizing its templates and layout managers. Now, after choosing a template, the user can upgrade to the new layout manager which provides a simple GUI interface to handle widgets on the page. Blogger carries guidelines on how to define new widgets.

Since I had not made a huge investment in developing my own templates and layouts in the original experimental blogs, I decided to migrate them to the new layout and template formats and to create some new ones. I then used the guidelines to create some new widgets of my own, including a couple for Google's adsense for content. The scripting language for widgets, "includables," and page layout management proved quite simple to use, and defined properly, the widgets can be manipulated in the simple, graphic layout manager.

Thursday, February 1, 2007


The new design of the paper edition of The Wall Street Journal debuted today, January 2, 2007.  (See L. Gordon Crovitz, "Annual Letter from the Publisher: A Report to Our Readers," WSJ, Jan 2, 2007.) The video report of this change including commentary by Crovitz, managing editor Paul E. Steiger and design consultant Mario Garcia can be found here. These changes may save costs and capture greater readership for The Wall Street Journal.

The editors and publishers have written a whole section defending the new design and font on the paper edition.  They note that the new design comes in response to readers' feedback
and the realities of online information distribution, including the evolving role of the online edition of the Journal itself. In fact, the Journal has also published a Readers Guide to explain the changes and various venues for getting the content it publishes.

While some readers may find advantages in the information lay-out on the Journal and some of the new services, including the free online Markets Data Center (in lieu of printed market data) and the printing of major economic and financial indexes on top of the front page, the narrower format of the new paper edition of the Journal is a real setback. It breaks the symmetry of the paper, which used to have 6 columns. It now has 5 columns, with an absent left column, and folding the paper in the middle renders one of the columns (the middle column) totally unreadable.

In short, something as mundane as the narrower format used for the new print edition of The Wall Street Journal seems to break the basic rules of using paper as technology.

The Wall Street Journal, despite the controversies and usual biases
of its opinion and editorial pages which are to be expected, has
published some of the best works American journalism has had to offer.  Some of this work has appeared on the "infamous" left column of the Journal, which will now be harder to find and read than it used to be simply because it is no longer there, on the left, at the top of the front page. While the online Journal has continually improved, the new paper edition seems to have some room for further "evolutionary" improvements.

By contrast, the paper edition of Financial Times (as distributed in the U.S.) continues with the (folding) symmetry of 8 columns in 2007. This symmetry preserves the resizing (i.e. folding) capabilities of the viewing platform the paper edition offers.

In the meantime and somewhat relevant to the Journal's change, Aline van Duyn of Financial Times reports the following surprising fact ("Media groups are grappling with a drift of revenue to the web," FT, Jan 2, 2007):

An analysis by Bain & Company, a consultancy, illustrates the
problem. For an average US newspaper, a subscriber generates about
$1,000 a year from advertising. For those newspapers that base their
internet strategy around being a content destination, each viewer
generates an average of $5.50 of advertising revenue. Losing one print
subscriber can therefore be hard to recoup in terms of advertising,
even as advertising dollars shift online.

Capturing online viewers do not seem to be keeping up with loss of print readers. So many analysts believe that traditional media need to deploy new business models for capturing revenue from online advertising, perhaps by taking a cut from transactions initiated through the online ads. On the other hand, there are ways to improve the number of print readers. Anyone traveling internationally will have noticed the wide availability of free papers for travelers. There are of course other means for improving print readership. Successful traditional media will probably emphasize both modes of reaching their audience.

It is of interest to note that The Wall Street Journal has actually added print subscribers at a rate of 10% last year.

Perhaps, the next evolutionary change in the print edition should be a reduction of the columnn width so that 6 columns can still fit on the Journal's page. FT's columns now are much narrower than the Journal's. So, this change should not be too disturbing although font size might have to be reduced a bit.