mstem's blog

Political Tech vs. Civic Tech

The campaign post-mortems are pouring in, unveiling the computer magic behind the Obama campaign. We should probably be thankful that the conversation has evolved from 2004-2008's obsession with social media into a newfound lay interest in data aggregation and empirically valid testing. I'm learning a lot reading these articles.

Designing Urban Food Systems in Shanghai

I've joined the Media Lab's Changing Places group for a week in China to design the future of sustainable cities in Shanghai.

China presents enormous challenges and huge opportunities, all at a dizzying scale. 300 million Chinese, the population of the entire United States, will move to urban areas over the next 20 years. 20 of the world's 30 most polluted cities are in China. Only 1% of China's 600 million urban residents have access to clean air, as measured by EU standards. Anyone serious about climate change, human welfare, and other challenges of the 21st century must consider China's role.

How to Grocery Shop in Shanghai

Another update from China. Thanks to the Great Firewall, I'm stuck in a Web 1.0 world of email and blogging.


Our group spent the day conducting ethnographic interviews of food sellers and consumers in a wide variety of contexts. We met with restaurant managers, supermarket shoppers, rice shop owners, and sidewalk crab hawkers. We interviewed people from several age brackets, to learn about the unique but also shared habits and concerns regarding food in China.

It's hard to understate the level of concern around food safety. The elderly we spoke to actively avoid eating outside of the house, at any time, because of safety concerns. People who raise their own chickens and eggs take comfort in knowing that the food is not only fresh, but also safe.

Talking Fast II: More CrisisMapper Ignite Sessions

Luis Capelo (@luiscape) of Digital Humanitarian Network loves volunteers. DH exists to stimulate more interaction between humanitarian volunteers and large humanitarian institutions.

There's information overload in humanitarian responses. How do we collect and make sense of all this information? Luis credits humanitarian orgs with doing the hard work of adapting, but it's a rough sea to navigate. Volunteer & Technical Communities thrive in this environment. They're nimble, lightweight, and advanced, technically. Luis thinks its time to stop questioning whether VT&Cs can help, and begin to dive into how these groups can collaborate.

DH aims to create a consortium of groups that faciliates between the two worlds, and reduces the cost of collaboration
They have a simplified activation process: activate volunteers, triage the volume, and forward them to VT&Cs. They've produced a guide to manage the activation of VT&Cs.

Talking fast at CrisisMappers: the Ignite Talks

#ICCM

Dr. Jen Ziemke (co-founder of CrisisMappers) welcomes a room packed with a wide variety of professionals and volunteers. CrisisMappers started in 2009 as a network, designed to stay in touch
The group has grown to 5,000 members, organized on a Google Group and Ning network.

For the newbies in the room, what is CrisisMapping?
Jen breaks it down into the data coming in, the visualization of the data, and the response: how does it affect decisions on the ground?

Changing technology is clearly a primary driver of crisis mapping. Mobile technology and the ability to crowdsource shared experiences and visualize it on a map, or elsewhere, has enabled crisis mapping. Beyond mapping, this community quickly becomes a broader group of digital humanitarians, using technology to help communities affected by crisis.

Smarter Cities, Better Use of Resources?

Dr. Lisa AminiIf you've read a magazine or traveled through an airport in the last couple of years, you've probably seen ads for IBM's Smarter Cities initiative. Today in our Post-Oil Shanghai course, we got to learn about some of the projects behind the very public campaign. Dr. Lisa Amini is the first director of IBM Research Ireland, based in Dublin. They focus on creating urban-scale analytics, optimizations, and systems for sustainable energy and transportation.

Lisa's group focuses on transforming cities with:

Look Who's Talking: Non-Profit Newsmakers in the New Media Age

Liveblog of the first Media Lab Conversations event of the semester, with help from Nathan Matias and Molly Sauter. You can view tweets from this event here.

“We’re a nonprofit, and we’re moving into the media business.”

Carroll Bogert (@carrollbogert) is the Deputy Executive Director for External Relations at Human Rights Watch. She also spent more than a decade as a reporter, bureau chief and editor of international news at Newsweek. Since 1978, Human Rights Watch (HRW) is one of the leading human rights organizations.

Smart Customization vs. Mass Production

Liveblog of Ryan C.C. Chin's PhD thesis defense at MIT Media Lab

Ryan came to MIT in 1997, and got a Master's in Architecture, and then at the Media Lab, before entering into the Lab's Ph.D program. He took leave for 18 months to work on the CityCar project.

Ryan's thesis examines smart customization, and the scientific differences between mass customization and traditional mass production. Is one better than the other? Is one more sustainable?

The CityCar is customizable on a number of levels: its base design, its adaptability to its environment (city), and its individual parts' modularity.

Ryan hasn't only worked on cars; he's also studied customization of dress shirts. He chose shirts because of their low cost, frequency of use, and relatively easy traceability (see SourceMap).

You're More Powerful as a Customer than as a Citizen (and that's bad)

If you're an early adopter, you likely sign up for a wide range of new products and services. A number of these startups inevitably fold, and then you receive their closing-shop emails. The correspondence making up this genre tends to be fairly upbeat and concise, painting over what are surely far more lurid tales of unrealized dreams and blown investments. The email I received announcing the demise of Moxy Vote broke with this pattern and offered an unusually candid, clear explanation of how and why they failed. And their failure points to a strategic problem today's would-be social changemakers face.

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