A Sanguine Neurastheniac

Entries from February 2011

“I’d Rather Be A Cyborg Than A Goddess”: Getting a PhD in Geek

February 15, 2011 · Leave a Comment

My dear friend Christina is as humble as she is brilliant, which makes it easy to overlook things like this. Dr. Christina Dunbar-Hester’s Ph.D level syllabus on technology and media at the School of Communication & Information at Rutgers was profiled in The Atlantic back in September and I only just found out about it by poking around her Rutgers bio.

Her comments start by saying that basically, everybody likes to talk about how technology drives political and social change, but it’s important to look at how culture shows up in technology itself. Her dissertation, “Propagating Technology, Propagating Community?” dealt in part with how geeks, particularly political geeks, form their identities. For example, how do you form a geek hobby group with gender equity when the people who show up and WANT that gender equity, are mostly men? Bonus: a friend of a friend called it the only funny dissertation they’d ever read.

In her syllabus, she talks about all sorts of juicy aspects of technology and cultural context. She covers the Cyborg Manifesto, geek politics, technological determinism, how technology designers imagine their users, who gets left out of technology, and how ex-hippies, influenced by Cold War-era information flows, gave us both the Whole Earth Catalog and Wired magazine.

Obviously, there’s plenty for a thinkin’ person to sink hir teeth into, but there’s so much here for the rest of us plebes as well. As someone who has spent a lot of time and energy helping people get more engaged with technology, I can tell you that questions of how to form community, how people come to technology with history, baggage, and sometimes fear, and how to talk about cultural assumptions to people who think that technology is neutral, well, that’s pure gold. Or titanium. Or tantalum. Whatever.

Here are a couple more quotes to warm up your critique centers:

“What are the consequences of linking the notion of human ‘progress’ with its moral overtones, to technology?”

“How did computers transform in our collective imagination from dehumanizing machines of command and control into tools for self-expression, shared consciousness, and a new frontier of digital utopia?”

“SCOT was developed to avoid the conclusion that a given design that “won out” did so because it was simply the “best” design–rather, SCOT asks what “best” is understood to mean, and according to whom, and why…”

“The fact that our MP3 players are designed for holding a lot of music that we play back at a relatively low resolution, and whether we can record, reconfigure, or remix on these devices (even the simple matter of whether they possess or lack a “record” button) are not arbitrary matters–in fact, the recording industry, media activists, users, and designers all have had different things to say about … how we should be able to use them…”

Go read the rest!

Categories: Gender tech and
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Up On The Roof: The Legalese of Green Roofs and Rooftop Farming

February 12, 2011 · Leave a Comment

On Saturday Feb 12, I gave a talk with Zhenya Fomin of the Energy Coordinating Agency and a former green roofer, on the zoning, permitting, and engineering realities of green roofs and rooftop farms, at the Horticulture Center in Fairmount Park. The talk was part of the Second Saturday Gardening series, and you can check out the other great offerings here and by clicking around the Extension website here. To register for future events, call the Penn State Philadelphia Extension office at 215- 471-2200 Ext 100 or just show up. The event is $10 and the funds go back to the Philadelphia Master Gardener program.

  • Here’s a copy of the talk including a bunch of resources and links to tax incentives, how-to guides, and rooftop farms around North America.
  • Here’s a copy of Community Design Collaborative’s work for PRooF.
  • Finally, here’s a fantastic article about rooftop farming by Phil Forsyth who is active in lots of urban farming and gardening initiatives around the city. Thanks to everyone who came! There was enough interest that we very well might repeat the talk and/or split off a couple of topics to go into more depth.

Talk description
Up On The Roof: The legalese behind green roofs and rooftop farms
Green roofs and rooftop farming hold tremendous hope for improving stormwater management and food access, especially in urban areas. Two representatives from a recent Philadelphia rooftop farming initiative will talk about how to green our skylines. The focus will be on the municipal labyrinth of zoning and code enforcement, and engineering realities of old buildings. The presenters are Zhenya Fomin, a former green roofer and graduate student at Philadelphia University and Stephanie Alarcon, a Philadelphia County Master Gardener, and Master of Environmental Studies candidate at the University of Pennsylvania.

Categories: Urban farming
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E-waste Talk from The Next HOPE

February 10, 2011 · Leave a Comment

In July, 2010 I presented a talk on my thesis topic, electronic waste, at the Hackers On Planet Earth, or HOPE conference in NYC.  My main interests around the topic are environmental justice, externalized costs, and transboundary movement of commodities. Sounds a little dry, but it’s plenty juicy. Here’s a link to the presentation.
Electronic Waste: What’s Here and What’s Next.

Categories: E-Waste · Environmental Studies
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Site Visit with AIDG in Guatemala

February 5, 2011 · 1 Comment

Para leer esta historia en Español, por favor escribame a steph.alarcon@gmail.com y trataré traducirla!

This past winter, I spent a month in Guatemala studying Spanish, checking out appropriate technology projects, and zipping around the geologically manic country around the Western Highlands. Here’s a reportback from a visit to the offices of the Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group (AIDG). I got to check out some prototype wind and solar designs and take a peek at their new kit-built CNC machine and custom circuit board designs.  Later, I got to poke around the office and come along on a site visit to a biodigestor installation they did outside of the city.  It lets the farmers nearby turn animal waste into organic fertilizer and cooking gas while reducing greenhouse emissions.  I got to hear about the combination of technical and user friendliness challenges they encountered and saw how the system is working now that it’s been tweaked a few times.  Pretty cool stuff.


Categories: Appropriate Tech
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