If anyone thought my Intelligent Fridge idea was good and would like to have one for themselves then here are instructions on how to build your own sensor.
It's a much greener solution I guess, as you don't need to get rid of your old fridge in order to add it!
Curt Rosengren's recent blog-move seems to have revitalised him and he's been posting some thought-provoking stuff at his new home. His latest idea is to reach out and talk to thirty different people in the next thirty days and has thrown down the gauntlet for others to join the Reconnection Revolution.
I did wonder whether I should take up the challenge and use it to spur me on with the marketing effort for tedium, but that feels a bit calculating and not really in the serendipity spirit of the whole idea.
Leaving the idea to marinate for a couple of days has let me realise a much more useful way that I can reconnect with people. Since moving to Turin my virtually-non-existent Italian has been improving, but only slowly. Piano, piano... as they say round here. The best way for me to connect with people would be if I could actually talk to them!
So, my 30-in-30 challenge is to do something to increase my Italian abilities each day: listen to a learn-Italian podcast; look up the vocab for a hypothetical conversation; use some of my new vocab in a conversation with someone... something like that.
And because it seems a shame to start now when there's a nice thirty-day long month coming along later in the week, I've got a couple of days to prepare.
The challenge starts on the 1st November.
One of the advantages of attending a performance of the baroque Mass of Notre Dame, as I did recently, is that it gives you a good two hours with nothing else to do but to sit and think as the sounds of the hurdy gurdy and Gregorian chant wash over you.
It was during this period that I got to wondering about how you could increase the take-up of alternative energy systems like solar water heating.
As you do. It's one of those chicken-and-egg situations isn't it? Even disregarding the benefit in reducing usage of fossil fuels, surely it's something everyone should be doing? Free energy, and it'll pay for itself after ten years or something.
So why haven't we all got it installed? It's that initial cost isn't it? A couple of grand isn't that easy to do without for ten years while you're recouping the cost. We thought about it when we had the bathroom done on the house in Cambridge, but couldn't quite justify the outlay given that the tenants would get all of the cost-savings. In the end we settled on a compromise measure, and had the right kind of hot-water cylinder fitted so when it's done in the future it will just need a couple of pipes run into the bathroom.
What we need then is some way for everyone to finance the installation without needing the cash up-front. Otherwise, solar-water heating will remain a doing-my-bit middle-class indulgence rather than a widely-adopted, distributed step in stemming global warming.
You could argue that the government should pay for the installations, or provide cheap loans to get round this problem; and to an extent it already does. However, that just shows what the problems are: there's a limited amount of funding available; you have to jump through all sorts of hoops to get any of it (e.g. you need a certain thickness of loft insulation); there are different grants available from different parts of government (in Cambridge there was a council grant available in addition to the central government one) with different conditions. On top of that, you still need to find someone to actually supply and fit the system.
None of which is very encouraging. We need a way to make it easier, and to remove barriers - not make it harder.
What if we could make it as easy as a process that lots of people already do, such as switching to a different gas or electricity company? When I switched our electricity to ecotricity last year, it just involved filling in a few fields online and then taking a meter reading. That's the sort of simplicity we need to aim for.
What if there was a different sort of green energy provider; one that, when you switched to them for your gas or electricity, also came and installed solar water heating at your house? Lets call it SOWHAT, the SOlar Water HeATing utility.
The switch-over process would be a bit more complicated, as there'd be an installation to arrange, but SOWHAT would deal with getting the government grants, providing the solar panels, etc. and use their own installers to fit it all. At the end, they'd give you a bill for the cost of the kit and the installation.
You would then decide to pay off as much, or as little, of the bill as you wanted, and the rest would be recovered over the years through your utility bills (plus a certain percentage to cover SOWHAT's ongoing costs and give them some profit). It might mean that it takes 15 years for your solar water heating "investment" to pay off, but in the long-run you'd still get free solar energy and collectively we'd get a lot more green power being used sooner.
Would it work? Does anyone want to build this utility? Let me know if you do, I'd love to be involved, even if it's just as one of the first customers.
Putting People First, the blog from Turin-based Experientia, have pointed to an interesting paper called Useful Void: The Art of Forgetting in the Age of Ubiquitous Computing.
"For millennia, humans have had to deliberately choose what to remember. The default was to forget. In the digital age, this default of forgetting has changed into a default of remembering."
The paper proposes that computers (/gadgets/technology/etc.) should by default forget things, so that we get back to the societal norms that have existed in history so far. I think I agree - I definitely think it's something we should worry about more than we do currently, we haven't decided to remember everything; it's just a by-product of our drive for more efficient and cheaper storage.
It's an idea that I've been pondering for a while now as a kind of background concept in some of the stuff I'm building, or thinking about building. It's definitely useful that computers are better than humans at remembering things, but we don't need the precision of the current systems. Do you ever need to know that your photo was taken at forty-six seconds past half three? Even immediately after taking it that's more precise than is useful. After a year, surely, "in the afternoon on Tuesday January 15th" is good enough? And in a hundred years time will anyone care for something more accurate than just "January 2008"?
The problem is that because remembering was something we used to have to work at, giving up such an ability is easier said than done.