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Green Chips, Blood Logs, Sickis and Folksonomic Futurism
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Title: World Without Oil

What It Is: A distributed, citizen-media project blending people's stories about rising fuel prices with anticipatory journalism about peak oil.

Why It Matters: Because as the bedrock assumptions of our lives shift more and more rapidly, being an expert doesn't necessarily make you a better predictor of the future. Sometimes, lots of "average" people swarming a problem makes for a better and more attuned discussion of change (think about out-collaborating a pandemic, or using open source futurism methods). Even when what we might call folksonomic futurism goes astray, it often does so in interesting ways.

Quote:"Over the weekend, my father and I converted all of our family's cars to run on any blend of gasoline and ethanol, up to 100% ethanol. It cost about $650 per vehicle. This way, we can at least still afford to drive when necessary. My father and I also spoke to some close friends about putting together an ethanol still, as ethanol prices are high, but not as high as gasoline. We purchased plans for one that can produce 10 gallons of fuel per hour, and is capable of 24 hour operation. At 240 gallons per day, we can supply about 30 local families, or 20 local families and some farm equipment. If we purchase all of the parts new, it will cost about $40,000. Some parts my father will be "borrowing" from work...others will be hopefuly we can push the cost down to $30,000, allowing $10,000 in spare parts. I know there will be additional costs and we have lots more work to do before jumping in."

Title: Chips With Everything

What It Is: Worldchanging Ally #1, Bruce Sterling, laying out some smart rants about how the word "computer" means less and less, as Moore's Law and miniaturization suffuse intelligence through the physical world.

Why It Matters: Because precision (knowing where things are) and remote sensing (knowing how the environmental flows are changing) are powerful tools for all sorts of worldchanging approaches, including walkshed technologies, product service systems and ways of knowing nature through technology...

Quote: "Knowledge is power, data is power—but power is power too, and in 2007 electrical power is the planetary crunch issue. The iPhone will have its little dock where it slots in, gasping for fossil voltage. The Microsoft Web robot will clank over and plug itself into the wall, and woe betide the competitor who gets in its way. Every other wireless chip still needs battery power; otherwise the Internet of Things becomes one giant lethal macramé of power cords. Putting chips in everything is the fast track to a greenhouse doom: you’ll be in an automated town that wirelessly watches itself catch fire and wash away in high tides.

"Except, what if there were wireless chips so small and clever that they sucked renewable energy right out of the environment? To survive as truly native components of the actual world, wireless computers would have to become power plants so nifty and thrifty that they’d live off free ambient energy: the heat in a hot-water pipe, the passing glow of sunlight. Being so small yet fiercely capable, the tiniest chips need only a fleabite of power to thrive. Green chips: the smaller they get, the closer they are to a zero-footprint.

"It’s still only 2007. Apple has not yet shipped a single iPhone. We don’t have Windows with Wheels and Eyeballs either. But self-powered green chips? The Germans, in the unlikely global stronghold of wind and solar, are very busy on ambient power: unlike Apple and Microsoft, nobody’s ever heard of EnOcean. It’s a start-up specializing in wireless doodads that can harvest and store the tiniest traces of environmental energy: a flux in daylight, a change of air pressure. Green-powered ­micronetworks—no more batteries.

Title: Google-mapping the sick

What It Is: A look at online mapping applications of contagious illness, like Who Is Sick? and other ways in which Web 2.0 is taking on the flu. Distributed House M.D.? Wiki + illness = Sicki?

Why It Matters: Because it's extremely clear that years of neglect have left the global public health system in extreme disrepair, precisely at the same time as some potential pandemics (hello bird flu) are revving up and climate change and ecological distress is opening new territories for others. Using infotech to fight pandemics offers powerful possibilities -- important ones, according to Larry Brilliant

Quote: "The National Institutes of Health's information page on meningitis (a potentially fatal illness) illustrates the problem well: who hasn't had some of the symptoms on that list? The decision on whether to seek medical attention can be made more intelligently if you have some sense of whether there's a nonlethal virus that triggers similar symptoms going around.

"This question hit home for founder P.T. Lee when his wife fell ill while on vacation, and couldn't decide how worried to be about it. Although some information regarding the spread of illnesses is available, sites like the CDC focus on specialized information and don't break things down on a fine scale, geographically. Most people aren't even aware of these resources, and tend to rely on friends and coworkers, who may not be available or have good information. Since he was on vacation, Lee had no access to these sorts of resources; after a drawn out visit to the local ER, he wound up convinced that there was a need for something better. To fill that need, he created WhoIsSick."

Title: Global Timber Smugglers—and How You Can Stop Them

What It Is: A really great summary of the ways in which the black market trade in timber (largely from tropical countries) hurts honest foresters, funds evil-doers, destroys irreplaceable rainforests and generally sucks.

Why It Matters: Because only you can stop forest thieves. Don't buy blood logs.

Quote: "In a grainy undercover video the smuggler stands surrounded by stacks and stacks of lumber, large bales of freshly milled planks held together with steel bands. His gold watch glints as he begins counting money, methodically placing each bill on a desk. Sitting nearby, his partner watches through Coke-bottle glasses. They both appear to be in a good mood, laughing and joking with their clients.

"'This smuggling,' the money counter says, 'is better than drug smuggling.'

"After all, trafficking a rain forest wood such as ramin through Singapore can be just as profitable as running heroin, but it doesn't carry the mandatory punishment of death."

Title: UK home energy meters

What it is: Ministers in the UK announced this week that they will be providing free home energy meters to residents throughout the country. By giving people the ability to monitor their energy use in real-time, they hope to achieve drastic reductions in CO2 emissions.

They point out that this is not a smart meter in the original sense, in that it can't be read and calibrated by one central, external source. This is a real-time reader that functions inside the home, in order for the people living there to be self-regulating.

Quote: The government recently committed itself to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 60% from 1990 levels by 2050. Households in the UK are responsible for about one third of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions. They hope "real-time monitors" will help cut greenhouse gas emissions and the amount of energy wasted by appliances being left on standby.

Title: CO2 Saver

What it is: Online energy use and emissions calculator for PCs
CO2 Saver is a free, downloadable app for PCs that puts a special energy-saving system on your computer which automatically launches when your machine's been idle for 30 minutes. Once the program's been installed, a small box appears on the desktop which lets you know how much energy you're using and how much CO2 you're saving (it also gives the same information as an aggregate sum from all CO2 Saver users). Alas...those of us in the Apple clan can't use it. At least not yet.

Quote: One of the FAQs you might ask: How exactly do you calculate how much energy CO2 Saver saves?

A: Because each computer is different, we currently use averages. CO2 Saver detects the type of computer you're using (for example, desktop vs. laptop) and uses that information to help calculate how much energy it normally uses (and how much the program will save). In the Options menu under "Computer Details," you have the ability to enter more information about your computer and monitor(s) so this can be taken into account, as power consumption also varies widely across monitor types and sizes. In the future, we plan to allow more precise measurements, and we're working on those features now.

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Wow - you referenced my 'sicki' post at Futurismic! I really have gone and coined a neologism! I know it's rather a sad thing to say, but I'm inordinately pleased by this state of affairs.

I'm also pleased to have been reading Worldchanging for about a year or so, and to have seen it getting stronger with time. Carry on.

Posted by: Paul Raven on 2 May 07



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