Thursday, September 20, 2007

The End of Nature, Nature's End, PhotoModeler, Sketchup for Google Earth: How do they relate?

I am sitting at my desk reading the product tour for a software package called PhotoModeler ("Meauring and Modeling the Real World") and I can't help thinking about a Whitley Streiber/James Kunetka thriller I read years ago called "Nature's End" (Schwarzer Horizont in German) and about how all this relates to Bill McKibben's "The End of Nature" which Professor Susanna Hecht assigned us in our urban planning classes at UCLA back at the turn of the century (did nature end with the millenium?).

If I recall Nature's End properly (I read it at the beginning of the 90's) it begins with hero John Sinclair using 3d modeling/animation/simulation software to reconstruct the many possible paths a crime could have followed so that the jury can decide which seems the most plausible. It would seem that Photomodeler sotware is beginning to be used in exactly this fashion. On their own website Eos Systems, the creator of Photomodeler, states,

" PhotoModeler software is used extensively by police, investigators, and forensics firms worldwide. Using photographs or video images taken at the scene, PhotoModeler helps to extract accurate 3D measurements and models quickly and easily, allowing you to analyze and measure crime and accident scenes long after the incident has taken place! ... PhotoModeler has capabilities to help solve even the most advanced accident reconstruction cases."

What is interesting to me is that Streiber writes books of fiction as "simulations" or "models" of events that either have happened, but where it is difficult to establish the true facts surrounding the events (e.g. alien encounters -- a kind of "accident reconstruction case") or could happen (e.g. the kind of future environmental disasters that formed the basis of the Roland Emmerich film "The Day After Tomorrow, inspired by Whitley Streiber and Art Bell's Prophetic "The Coming Global Superstorm", later novelized by Streiber himself.) But while the "1 dimensional" linear narratives found in books can do a decent job of laying out possible paths in a sequential, or serial fashion, and films can do a nice job of fleshing out those paths with rich graphics, real-time interactive 3D simulations based on actual physics and measurement can create the most compelling cases for any given scenario.

This is where a combination of Photomodeler and Google Earth Sketchup and some as yet unchosen Game Engine (like the Havoc Physics Engine, which is not free, or the Blender Game Engine, which is) can produce the desired outcome suggested by Bill McKibben in "The End of Nature".

In his book McKibben offers us two choices (as Led Zeppelin sang in Stairway to Heaven, "yes there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run... there's still time to change the road you're on"). McKibben says we can take the path he calls "The Defiant Reflex" using our technology to macromanage and micromanage the environment so as to reduce its negative effects on us as it degrades, or we can take "The Humble Approach" whereby we give up our dream of "control".

The idea behind our Solar Cities Political Ecology Alternate Reality Game is that we should be able to use software like Photomodeler, Sketchup, Google Earth and Blender to create the kind of simulations John Sinclair could use to defeat dangerous fanatics (like Gupta Singh and George W.) and play them out in the court of humanity in front of an international jury of connected minds who can rationally and democratically vote on and thus choose the paths we take into the future.

I personally believe that McKibben's binary logic is flawed and that both "The Defiant Reflex" and "The Humble Approach" can work in tandem. In fact I think that they will see-saw back and forth, as our greater control over and understanding of the political and environmental ecology of the earth help us lose our fear and give us more confidence in devolving some of our control (if not all of it) to the collective intelligence of the God-Earth-Mind system. Call it "Gaia" or call it "Hive Intelligence" or "Swarm Intelligence", or simply call it "The Invisible Hand" tempered with "Moral Sentiments"; the idea is that we didn't create this system, this earth, this universe, it created us, and we can trust it to do its job of creating and nurturing living systems once we understand where it functions and where it fails (for us!) and how to tweak it, when necessary (as all living beings do) , to try and avoid suffering and extinction.

Perhaps "The Defiant Path" will lead inexorably to "The Humble Approach", much as Marx predicted that Capitalism was a necessary phase on the journey to communal harmony through an "inevitable" socialism. I think the jury is still out on that -- but of course all of these eschatological theories contain deep epistemological flaws in that they all involve definitive "end points" -- a flaw echoed in book titles such as "The End of Nature" and "Nature's End", to say nothing of Fukuyama's "The End of History".

The point today, class, is that a tool such as Photomodeler, and other technologies that let anybody, anywhere easily reconstruct the past or make predictions of the future based on easily obtainable physical evidence in the present, CAN be used for social and environmental good, if we will only orient our thinking that way, and contribute actively to the collective task at hand.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

"Avatars are really just points of view made flesh"...

Read more about it on Ogle Earth...

Interacting in Google Earth: Creating a "Political Ecology Alternate Reality Game" -- The Sky's the Limit!

"Good morning class! It's a bright sunny day with a mild breeze here in Essen, Germany; perfect for taking a run down by the Baldeneye See. I would love to show you the locks along the river that have made transporting goods so cost efficient for the past couple of centuries that "land-locked" areas like Westphalia have been able to prosper long before the Autobahn and other highway systems transformed our landscape and environment.

"Of course, this is an on-line course and you are in places as far away as Texas and North Carolina and Dobbs Ferry, New York, and I don't have time to put together a video for the class like I did when we visited the Zeche Zollverein coal mine to discuss how air quality has affected psychology since Germany switched to natural gas.

"So what to do? We talked at the beginning of the class about using Second Life as a way to meet and explore environments in 3 Dimensions and interact in real time. The problem, of course, is that Second Life is a fictitious environment, so while it offers many simulation possibilities, it can't help us with historical or contemporary spatial geography.

"Now, however, in researching ways to create our "Political Ecology Alternate Reality Game", I have stumbled upon the good news that we may soon be able to use Google Earth as our "realistic" version of Second Life.

First, there was the discovery that Google Earth already has a built in flight-simulator. Type Ctrl + Alt + A (Win) or Open Apple Key-option-A (Mac) and you can choose between F16 fighter plane or an SR22 Propellor plane. Then you can select any airport in the world for your take-offs and landings, or start in the air and fly anywhere on the known earth from right above your favorite location. With so many Google Sketchup models beginning to turn Google Earth into a truly 3D landscape, Google Earth is quickly becoming the best flight simulation game out there! Marco Gallota gives great examples and pics on his blog.
Folks reacting to Marco's enthusiasm on have predicted that we will soon be able to use Google Earth as a hyper realistic virtual gaming environment, replete with user controllable avatars. This would be perfect for the development of our "serious" gaming -- the Solar Cities Political Ecology ARG (Alternate Reality Game) that was inspired by Buckminster Fuller's World Game.

There are already tools that are making more personal interaction with Google Earth possible. One that I downloaded last night, called "Unype" , created by (and you will like this as Mercy College students!) New York's own Murat Aktihanoglu. Murat is not affiliated with Google but offers his excellent program for free in the best cyberpunk spirit (remember the cyberpunk motto is "information longs to be free!"). Clearly Murat is an aficianado of Neil Stephenson's seminal novel "Snow Crash" (which inspired Second Life) as the avatar he created for Unype in Google Earth for his tutorial is named "Hiro Protagonist"!

Murat's brilliant program allows a "multi-user Google Earth Environment" and works in tandem with Facebook and Skype. When you launch these three programs simultaneously, the Keyhole Mark Up language
file generated (yes, that is what .KML really means, in case you forgot -- though I have encouraged you to think of it as a "coordinate markup language") lets you see where your facebook friends are in Google Earth, lets you coordinate your actions via Skype (here is the tutorial) and moves your avatar around their Google Earth (and vice versa) as you explore Google Earth locations on your screen. That way you can follow people down paths and yes, I could take you on a tour of the Locks in the Baldeneysee river!

Due to limitations in the Google API (not in Unype allegedly) the avatars are static 3D meshes (no moving feet or arms or faces, but fully skinned and texture mapped) and they don't move freely -- there is a lag, so they kind of "hop" around the screen every few seconds as you move your cursor. It ends up feeling a bit like playing a protracted game of chess.

In time, however, we can expect the Google API to improve once they see how useful Mr.
Aktihanoglu's app is (we know from on-line gaming that bandwidth is not necessarily the issue).

How soon can we expect Google Earth to take on the true characteristics of an on-line game experience and thus be useful for creating our Political Ecology ARG? Rumors are flying, but there is a hopeful site with encouraging news called Ogle Earth that keeps you updated about all developments in virtual earth technology. They inform us that Google Earth is already working with Chinese developers to come up with true avatars for Google Earth, and that part of what is driving this seems to be healthy competition with Bill Gates' Virtual Earth technology.

Apparently everybody wants to make a real world version of Second Life that lets virtual shopping interface with real shopping (try it, then buy it). Our hope in this Environment and the Psychology of Behavior class, and at Solar Cities, is that the potential of using these GUI's for social and environmental justice is not lost on the developer community! Bill and Melinda Gate's foundation does great things in Africa, for example, and with the advent of the "hundred dollar laptop" -- IF the computer designers to skimp on the processing power -- it should be possible for even the poorest among us to participate in the redesign and improvement of our communites.

In a few weeks, when I have finished creating some of the buildings and "green technologies" for the slums of Cairo, you will be able to download the .KMZ files (zipped forms of .KML files) of our field work locations from (which is very much still under construction) and install Unype and Skype and register on Facebook and we will take a "class field trip" to the poorest sections of Cairo, Egypt, and take a look at our development efforts in Darb El Ahmar with the Muslim craftspeople community of Medieval Cairo and Manshiyat Nasser with Coptic Christian Zabaleen garbage recycling community.

From this tour (an analogue in virtual reality of the tour we took Professor Randall Crane and his 25 graduate students of Urban Planning from UCLA last year) you may find yourself inspired to come and work with us or to contribute some of your ideas for sustainable development on-line.

The idea, of course, is to turn Game Development into a vehicle for Sustainable Development!

And now, with Google Sky giving us the possibility to actually leave the Earth and explore the heavens, we may even be able to further Pat Friedrich's excellent class project, and virtually terraform Mars!

It seems that as we develop our political ecology Alternate Reality game using Google Earth, the Sky's the limit!!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Solar Cities ARG concept

Solar Cities: Founders: T.H. Culhane (California, New York, Iraq, Egypt, Germany) Dr. Sybille Frütel Culhane (Germany, Iraq, Egypt), Board of Directors: Andy Posner(California, Rhode Island, Russia), Michelle Finnel (America), Ahmed Khalifa (Egypt, Germany, Kenya), Neda Pouryekta (Iran, Germany, Kenya) , Frank DiMassa (Italy, Northern California)

(Note: This page gives you access to the .KMZ files we are creating for Darb El Ahmar and Manshiyat Nasser's Solar Cities ARG project (described below). For access to Google 3D Warehouse components useful in making your own solar city, click here.)

It all started in 1961, the year Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to leave the gravity well of earth and went into space. Buckminster Fuller proposed the creation of The World Game" (a.k.a. "The World Peace Game") as the core curriculum for Souther Illinois University.
Bucky's visionary idea was ""make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological damage or disadvantage to anyone."
The idea behind Fuller's World Game was to find an alternative to War Games (already being modeled on computers by specialists isolated from the public) and put our collective intelligence to use for social and environmental welfare.

Finally the technology has caught up with Buckminster Fuller's vision. Our idea at Solar Cities is for enthusiasts of sustainable development and renewable energy to help create our part of the game, and make it competitive not only with military planner's War Games, but with all the time-consuming video games siphoning off so much of the publics' problem solving genius.

Our goal is not to replicate the great work being done elsewhere, but to enhance and extend it by creating game modules dealing specifically with the local microeconomic realities and individual and household needs issues pertaining to the communities in which we work.
It is hoped that others will jump on board, mod and model such games for their neighborhoods and areas of interest, and that little by little we will fill in the gaps.
This section, very much under construction, will allow visitors to access .kml files (archived as zipped .kmz files) that can be used with Google Earth.
The goal is to work together to create a unique data visualization tool for the areas where Solar Cities is working so that local citizens, planners, policy makers and global participants can envision and virtually experience the current urban Cairo environment (circa 2007), propose and make necessary and desired changes, simulate, view and even role play the results, and then make recommendations for real world changes.

Ultimately we hope that this site will act as a kind of "WIKI" for sustainable development. We hope to create an ARG (Alternate Reality Game) in which participants use their collective intelligence to solve real world problems.
The "game" would combine familiar elements of SimCity4 and The Sims 2 but would use the simulations merely to model and role play alternate realities that that, once agreed upon, could be truly implemented.

The hook of the game would be that "the system" or "the machine" would be programmed with A.I. following the logic of the dominant modernist, capitalist paradigm that seems to drive so much of the real economy.

"Players" would get to pit themselves against "the machine" or "the system", struggling to introduce a post-modern ("both-and" as opposed to "either-or") and post-capitalist ("profit is no longer a zero-sum game") paradigm that the A.I. avatars (and possibly other real life players) would find antithetical to their worldview.

The A.I. in the game would endeavor to vigorously fight any moves toward "sustainable development" and "environmental and social justice" that upset the status quo.

Players would have to negotiate their way around hostile agents representing industry, government, local and international business, and threatened community members.

Winning the game would involve working toward win-win situations that satisfy both the "idealists" playing the game, and the programmed paradigm posing as "realism".

The first step in this game is developing the game itself. To do so, we first have to create a digital, 3D Darb-Al Ahmar Muslim Craftsperson community and Manshiyat Nasser Zabaleen Christian Community.

This virtual community needs real household attribute data -- all the socioeconomic indicators (poverty level, income, infrastructure, access to credit, family size, gender distribution etc.) that would allow us to model a faithful representation of the actual communities.

An interface needs to be designed that allows for friendly data visualization (see SimCity 4 for some ideas).

Once we have created the community AS IT IS, with reliable data, we then need to develop a game engine that allows us to interact with and manipulate variables in the community.

The game data would have to be updatable as real changes occur in the real community.

Players would try to introduce and create renewable energy technologies, training centers, workshops, small business opportunities and the like (as in The Sims 2 "Open For Business" expansion pack), and see how these things affect the community when played out.

Ideas that game out as producing "Pareto Optimality" would be shared by players with real life planners and policy makers.

Ideas that seem to cause too much conflict and disruptions would be red-flagged and saved for analysis to get better ideas of why given attempts to improve the community don't work.

While all of this is very ambitious, the first stage would be simply creating KML files for use with Google Earth that allow the overlay of 3D architecture, photographs and attribute tables of local infrastructure and demographic information.

As a first step, and an invitation for others to get involved, I am posting my progressively evolving KML files here:

Click here to download Solar Cities first attempt to create buildings with solar panels in Google Sketchup

This file is only 186 KB

Click here to download the KMZ file of Solar Cities first attempts to map infrastructure in Darb El Ahmar

This is a 9 MB file that has two CAD base maps created by the AKTC showing water and electric services, with Google Earth pins (posts) making them clickable in Google Earh.

Using these files is very simple. Simply download the .kmz files, double click on them and they should launch Google Earth and take you right to the location. Alternately, you can download the files in a folder, then click and drag them into the left sidebar in Google Earth.

Here is a first attempt at creating a 3D view of Building 72 with the home built solar hot water system on top.
The view is looking from Darb Al Ahmar West to Al Azhar park and you can see the Muqattam Hills in the background.

Here is a crowded view of the data from above:

Here is a closeup of the map with overlays:

What is needed now are posts showing the building numbers, so we can tie (geocode) survey information with real locations.

If you have map data about innercity Cairo you would like to contribute to this project, please contact us at

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Last Mimzy: Connecting to Future Environments

Yesterday my wife was in a funk after reading Der Spiegel -- Germany's version of Time or Newsweek magazine. She was legitimately worried about the future of our world and there was nothing I could say that would banish the fears that so many articles on military interventionism, weapons buildup, terrorism, police-state security techniques, climate change, biodiversity extinction, nuclear reactor building and other horror stories force our psyches to well up.

We looked at pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope in The Universe: 365 Days by Nemiroff and Bonnell to gain some perspective. Then we sang Monty Python's "The Universe Song" from The Meaning of Life, and that helped just a bit (here are the lyrics in case you have forgotten:


"Whenever life gets you down, Mrs. Brown, and things seem hard
or tough.
and people are stupid, obnoxious or daft,
and you feel that you've had quite enouuuuuuuuugh...

member that your standing on a planet that's evolving,
and revolving at nine hundred miles an hour...
That's orbiting at ninety miles a second, so it's reckoned,
the sun that is the source of all our power.
The sun and you and me, and all the stars that we can see,
are moving at a million miles a day.
in an outer spiral-arm at forty thousand miles an hour
of the galaxy we call the Milky Way.

Our galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars,
it's a hundred thousand lightyears side to side.
It bulges in the middle, sixteen thousand lightyears thick,
but out by us it's just three thousand lightyears wide.
We're thirty thousand lightyears from galactic central point,
we go 'round every two hundred million years.
And our galaxy is only one of millions of billions,
in this amazing and expanding universe.

The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding,
in all of the directions it can whiz.
As fast as it can go, that's the speed of light you know;
twelve million miles a minute, that's the fastest speed there is.
So remember when your feeling very small and insecure,
how amazingly unlikely is your birth,
and pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space,
'cause there's bugger-all down here on earth!"

That kind of cheered us up for about 10 minutes, and then we listened to Harry Nilsson's heart wrenching version of John Lennon's song "Isolation":

"People say we got it made don't they know we're so afriad
we're afraid to be alone, everbody got to have a home

Just a boy and a little girl
trying to change the whole wide world

All the world is a little town
everybody trying to put us down

I don't expect you to understand
after you caused so much pain
But the again you're not to blame
your just a human, a victim of the insane

We're afraid of everyone, afraid of the sun

The Sun will never disappear
but the world my not have many years

Again we found some comfort in the perpective that we are just mere humans, victims of the insane, and it is fear that makes us make such big mistakes, and isolation that keeps us from using our collective intelligence to make things better.

And Lennon was right: we are afraid of the sun. Afraid of the Urspring of all life on earth. Afraid of the ultimate source of energy that, if properly utilized, could get us safely out of this fossil fuel and nuclear fuel melodrama that taints our would-be, could-be technotopia. (He was wrong, of course, that the Sun will never disappear, but one can take poetic liscence with the term "never" when the time line is on the order of billions of years...)

Still, the songs and the photo tour of the universe weren't enough to improve our psychology. What we needed was an immersion experience in an environment that could stimulate more of our senses and stitch the inputs together into a narrative that would create a feeling of lasting hope.

Thus we found ourselves at the Cinemaxx in Essen in an otherwise completely empty theatre watching the afternoon kidee matinee of "Mimzy, Meine Freunde aus der Zukunft" (English title: "The Last Mimzy").

The premise of the film is that both environmental and cultural schadestoffe (pollutants)are threatening the future of the human race and the only solution is for the people of the 22nd century (or was it later?) to send probes and time-travel communication technology to the early 21st century to get a sample of unadulterated DNA (assumedly mitochondrial as well as nucleus-borne) from a little girl to help heal our distant descendants.

Somehow the film acted as a release trigger for many pent up and frustrated emotions. In the simplicity and innocence of the two child protagonists and their willingness to go out of their way to help unseen future generations we found reason for hope -- hope that maybe the little things we do can have a profound positive effect on the future, and certainly hope that if such a beautiful film embracing cosmic perspectives can be made and released, we are not so alone here today.

In effect the film gave us both a universal perspective and banished our feelings of isolation.

Properly constructed story environments can do that; this is the magic of the film medium.

But when we got back and started thinking about constructing our Environmental ARG (Alternate Reality Game) for connecting the people of today to the possible future environments our children and grandchildren will have to inhabit, we found that the "Mimzy Concept" (people from degraded futures reaching back in time to warn us and seek our help) actually turns out to be the premise of one of the first "serious alternate reality games". Apparently there is a (fictional?) company called "Temporalkinephonics" that (in the game?) is run by former MIT grad students who have invented a type of telephone that spontaneously started receiving "calls" from the future.

The premise of the game, as stated in the "Tomorrow Calling Elevator Pitch" by Jim Wolff and Andrew Sides is that we can further develop Turner and
Morrison's experience (2005)
of creating an ARG as a pedagogic tool (see Suit Keen Renovator: alternate reality design, ACM International Conference Proceeding Series; Vol. 123 Proceedings of the second Australasian conference on Interactive entertainment). Tomorrow Calling uses the fictional idea of people from a degraded 2085 world environment trying to contact people in the present to actually help avert climate change and loss of biodiversity and environmental services in the "real world". People can actually "play their way to solutions".

As Wolff and Sides (2007) point out, movies (like The Last Mimzy -- and this would apply to Monty Python's Meaning of Life and songs by our favorite artists) may be great at providing some perspective and emotional discharge, but they are passive experiences and cannot really engage us in meaningful problem solving.

What is needed are experiences where we get to BE the little girl who receives a Mimzy from the future, or to be Mrs. Brown taken on a tour of the vast universe. Instead of living vicariously through a linear narrative depicting the lives of our heroes, we need to become the heroes -- safely and in a controllable environment, however filled with adventure and challenge -- and try out our collective critical thinking skills for problem solving.

Wolf and Sides, with their temporalkinephonics "Tomorrow Calling" narrative, may just be creating such an experience. They hope that the ARG will encourage a greater use of digital earth and data visualization technologies and put them into more common use. The onus then is placed on the rest of us to develop even more such ARGs, and incorporate the Data Visualization tools that Hans Rosling's Gapminder Organization has developed and is making available to the public.

To end this blog, you should know that while the works of art andfiction we treated ourselves to helped give us the courage to face the day, Sybille and I ended the evening by watching the following "real" movie of Hans Rosling demonstrating gapminder technologies. The fact that the REAL DATA shows hopeful future trends, and that it can be seen so dynamically through his animations, is what gave us the real hope that let us sleep peacefully last night.

I encourage you to watch it here:

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Problemis not Ignorance, it is Preconceived Ideas

Obliged to Play: Using alternate reality games to improve our environments

As a Biological Anthropology major at Harvard I learned that PLAY was serious business. When I was in high school my father had often quoted Mark Twain as saying "work is anything a body is obliged to do; play is anything a body is not obliged to do", and I took that to heart. But at Harvard, studying sociobiology and evolutionary biology and ethology with E.O. Wilson and Stephen Jay Gould and Burt Holldobler, among others, I came to learn that large brained animals, in fact, were obliged to play, and that play had evolved and was encoded in our genes (and those of other mammals and of birds; the jury may still be out on fish)because it confers fitness advantages over those animals that do not play.

We know now that play and games among young animals, are serious precursors for survival in the adult stage. They are serious adaptations, so serious in fact, that it can be argued that not playing is maladaptive to the point of being life threatening.

The book "Primates in the Classroom" by J. Gary Bernhard; 1988 (an analysis of the sociobiology that makes most schools so maladaptive) points out that play is important for child development, critical thinking and broad learning, and that the failure of most education systems may be the way they discourage productive play.

Many parents and teachers, by contrast, are concerned about the time their children spend playing "mere games" and today, with the advent of realistic simulations of 3d environments that seem to inspire "obsession" among those who play them, there is deep concern that children are "losing touch with reality" and are somehow being harmed by their desire to "play" in this new medium. After all, if people are spending their time learning to adapt to virtual reality, how well will they fare when faced with the "true reality"?

This may be where ARG's can play a profound role. ARG's are "Alternate Reality Games". They can be distinguished from "mere" virtual reality games in that they make use of all realities and all media that the human animal can perceive and interact with using her five senses.

An ARG makes potential use of computer-based audio, video, text, internet, web and 3D virtual environments, of sms, telephony, television, books, magazine, comic books, films, theater and concert experiences, libraries, local and foreign travel experiences and social networks... in short, every possible medium and environment from which information and experience can be garnered and through which puzzles and problems can be solved, insights discovered and connections made.

I won't go into the history of ARG's except to note with irony that one of the first was apparently a tie-in to the Steven Spielberg film "A.I." and the point of the game was to help the fictional robot child find his way home. People around the world became so obsessed with helping the distressed android that they went out of their way to engage in collective problem solving with complete strangers.

Today, with the gap between the rich and the poor widening and the number of urban homeless people and homeless international refugees fleeing war and environmental devastation, it would be nice to think that we could harness this kind of obsessive energy and turn game playing into the collective construction of a true "alternate reality". Hopefully it would be a better reality.

Since games model the real world and give us a chance to safely role play alternate behaviors in response to simulated environments, it would be advantageous (and adaptive, I believe) if we could use the physics engines and other game developer tools to simulate areas of the world where the poor live and suffer and where their environment has become unliveably degraded, and let people -- both those who "have-not" and those who have the means to help -- role play the difficulties of life in those areas and then collectively work toward alternate reality solutions.

Throughout such a "sustainable development ARG" the "players" could experiment with solutions to intransigent social, political, infrastructural and environmental problems, and then, in order to "win" the game, could vote on the most appropriate and hopeful solutions.

In this way a properly designed "environmental ARG" or "social change ARG" could become a new force in democracy and participatory planning.

My idea is not wholly new nor untested. Already plans are in development for "serious ARGs" (which will hopefully be as fun and engaging to play as they are important) and many of them can be found at the Alternate Reality Gaming Network.

Here are a couple of quotes from their site for definition:

"These games (which are usually free to play) often have a specific goal of not only involving the player with the story and/or fictional characters but of connecting them to the real world and to each other. Many game puzzles can be solved only by the collaborative efforts of multiple players, sometimes requiring one or more players to get up from their computers to go outside to find clues or other planted assets in the real world..." obsession-inspiring genre that blends real-life treasure hunting, interactive storytelling, video games and online community...

"These games are an intensely complicated series of puzzles involving coded Web sites, real-world clues like the newspaper advertisements, phone calls in the middle of the night from game characters and more. That blend of real-world activities and a dramatic storyline has proven irresistible to many."

Wouldn't it be nice if we had a plethora of games out there that taught proper environmental science, technology and development theory, helped us solve the "intensely complicated series of puzzles" involved in protecting biodiversity and ending poverty, and actual became irresistible to many?

One such game is fortunately already under development. It is called "Tomorrow Calling" which challenges players to evaluate what it will be like living in an environmentally challenged world. It is linked to another deep ARG called "World Without Oil" which uses Youtube videos, blogs and personal websites to create an environment of truth telling through the eyes of the everyday citizen as the backdrop for the game. It poses the question "how will we survive in a world without oil". By playing through the game the hope is that we will use our swarm intelligence to find answers.

My wife, Sybille Culhane, and I, T.H. Culhane along with our colleagues Andy Posner and Michelle Finnel, are now working on our own Environmental ARG, to be set primarily in the slums of Cairo Egypt and the jungles of Central America, inviting players to help solve both urban and rural development problems by playing through the deeply imbricated connections between city and countryside.

The first step in our ARG is the creation of 3D virtual environments that model the historic slum neighborhoods and informal settlements of inner city Cairo and the rainforest villages of northern Guatemala, and to that end we are begining to learn Google Sketchup so that we can make these environments available as .kml files to be integrated into Google Earth. On these kml maps we are beggining to plot infrastructure information, such as the presence or absence of water pipes, electric substations and transformers, renewable energy systems, rooftop gardens, sewage connections and treatment plants, and microeconomic data such as preference information on the demand for hot water, solar thermal systems, photovoltaics, and other public and private goods that policy makers could help provide better access to if they knew what was going on at the household level.

The game, ultimately connected with a fully immersive and interactive experience (perhaps built as a Half-Life Mod using the Havoc Physics Engine?) would theoretically take you into the houses and huts and give you the chance to interact with the people and learn their needs and difficulties. Armed with this knowledge the game would then allow you and others to mod the environment, much as one does in The Sims 2 and SimCity 4, and see if you can help make these parts of the world better.

One of the goals of the project is to take advantage of and introduce new Data Visualization Tools that finally are making it easier to wrap our minds around difficult concepts and the significance of large and complex data sets. In particular we are inspired by the tools Hans Rosling presenting at the TED conference in a paper called "Debunking third-world myths with the best stats you've ever seen".

At this point we are in the planning stages, and we invite any students, professors or other citizens of our global commonwealth to participate!

Friday, September 7, 2007

1008 - 1037 Responses to student improvements and The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, i.e. DON'T PANIC !

Message no. 1008[Branch from no. 952] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Monday, May 21, 2007 5:37pm Subject: Re: Relational Summary

Indeed Daniella, Architecture is a powerful tool to control the mind as you have said. Read about the work of the architect known as LE CORBUSIER and you will see how he wanted to use architecture to control the public. His style is still used to that effect today, and many people find it hideous (although his original work was rather inspired!).

Le Corbusier's most famous line is "A House is a Machine to Live in" -- he would have never understood your mother's love of the baked clay look of the paint in her room -- he would have prefered a dining room that got people to efficiently consume their nutrients as quickly as possible and then get back to work. His attitude made a lot of cafeteria designers go for ugly functionalism that creates a higher turn over.

Nice summary!

Message no. 1010[Branch from no. 964] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Monday, May 21, 2007 5:40pm Subject: Re: summary

Glad to see how a personal experience with the correctional system has influenced your thoughts about utopia. I also now feel that we must eliminate abuse from all systems -- punishment is not a way to prevent crime, in fact it breeds it!

Message no. 1026[Branch from no. 1013] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Wednesday, May 23, 2007 5:25am Subject: Re: chapter 7-janita

That is so true Danilea, and the trick of learning and giving yourself a powerful education as a life long learner is to find a way to relate EVERYTHING to your own life history. It seems hard at first (what is my relationship to statistical mechanics, or stained glass making, for example?) but it turns out that if you dig a little bit, you will find you are related to everything.

Personally I believe this is because we are all the creation of the one and only loving God, and thus we are all connected. Learning is about finding those connections.


"...since every piece of matter in the Universe is in someway affected by every other piece of matter in the Universe, it is in theory possible to extrapolate the whole of creation - every Galaxy, every sun, every planet, their orbits, their composition, and their economic and social history from, say, one small piece of fairy cake."

You may also be familiar with the game "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" which shows that we are all connected to everybody else by an average of six other people (six degrees of separation). This also applies to every TOPIC in the world. Once you find your connection, away you go! You can write, muse, talk for hours....

It is all about relating to yourself, isn't it?

Glad you have made that discovery!

Message no. 1027[Branch from no. 1014] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Wednesday, May 23, 2007 5:34am Subject: Re: Summary

Your story about the effect of changing the conditions of the bar you worked in are inspiring! I will use this anecdote in my future discussions about how environment affects behavior. Thanks for that incredible piece of evidence!

That is what makes these relational summaries so valuable -- you add your own data to an ever growing pool of data that can be used to make society a better place! You see, you can make a real difference, just by reporting your experiences in a context.

Now you may get an idea for why I conduct the course the way I do -- I am doing research, and your relational summaries are, in effect, survey responses. The "questions" in my survey are the topics in the chapters, the answers are what you report about your experiences. This way the entire class acts as a giant laboratory for environment and the psychology of behavior! I have learned, from you guys, how changing the atmosphere of a bar affects business, about how chaning the environment in a hospital or old age home affects the people within them etc...


Message no. 1028[Branch from no. 987] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Wednesday, May 23, 2007 5:47am Subject: Re: relational summary

Keep turning those lights off Daniela!! I do the same thing! It is an ethic we must all adopt! And I loved your story about the ticket for the Chicken McNuggets litter -- I will tell this to people here in Cairo. The other night, just outside the McDonald's drive through, a man and his friends were about to throw their entire bag of trash out the window at my feet. I glared at the man and he thought better of it. So instead he drove a hundred feet down the road, then stopped and threw the whole bag into a garden and then sped off! Wish I had the ability to write a ticket, or that the police (who were standing right there doing nothing, as usual) cared!

In fact, Egypt could raise a lot of money fining polluters and litterers!

Thanks for the insights in your summary!

Message no. 1037[Branch from no. 1032] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Wednesday, May 30, 2007 4:14pm Subject: Re: Chapter 2 redo-

This was great Janita! I really enjoyed how you linked the chapter to the development of your son and to your own dawning awareness of how your behavior impacted others and your environment. Well done!

989 - 1005 Responses to student improvements

Message no. 989[Branch from no. 986] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Thursday, May 17, 2007 4:13pm Subject: Re: Daniela Final Part II

Glad you are enjoying it Daniela!

Your final is almost there. As with Adrienne's I need you now to list, not just summarize, the results of your survey questions along with each person's consumption patterns so we can see what correlates with what. Then your analysis will be more targetted and not just a general summary. In other words, since you suggest that AGE is related somehow to consumption and size of family is too, let us know how old person one and person two and person three etc. are, and let us know the size of their families and all that good stuff. That way we can draw our own conclusions and see if they match yours? Capisce?

A little more detail and we're there Daniela! Go for it!

Good first stab!


Message no. 991[Branch from no. 974] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Friday, May 18, 2007 5:39am Subject: Re: chap 10- Janita

This summary is one of the best you have posted Janita -- just as you felt connected to the passage in the book, we feel connected to you and your experiences and the psychology of your behavior through your writing about your insights. And that is the point of these relational summaries. If you could insert a bit more of "YOU" into the other summaries, even at this late date, it would make a world of difference and make it easier to grade well. You know, inject a bit of your personality into the other summaries, as you have done this one. The others are so dry -- as if they were mere restatements of what the book said, which we have all read. What we have been interested in in this class is YOU -- how you relate to the ideas in the book, how your personal environment affects your behavior and how you were affected by what you learned! And by the way, having grown up in inner city Chicago on the south side, Playgrounds for me were just as you described them -- safe places where everyone looked after one another and interacted. In fact, even in those times of tension and crime, my parents thought it safe to let us go to the playground alone. As you say times have changed! I agree we should bring the playground standard back to society.

Message no. 1004[Branch from no. 938] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Monday, May 21, 2007 4:52pm Subject: Re: chapter 3-

Janita -- to get credit for these summaries remember they have to be RELATIONAL -- that is RELATED TO YOUR LIFE AND EXPERIENCES! Otherwise they appear to just be cut and paste factoids from some book or website.

You MUST (and this applies to any of you who have written summaries that are mere summaries, without personal info and without quotes and page numbers so we can SEE what you have copied) go back and insert the personal information and the reference pages and quotes or IT DOESN'T COUNT!!

This is the time to do it ... open all your relational summaries, re-read them and ask yourselves "does this document show others HOW I RELATE TO THE IDEAS IN THE TEXT?"

DO NOT be afraid to be personal. You count. You matter. Your psychology is important. Stop thinking that learning is about facts. It is about how you integrate facts into your daily life. It is about YOU YOU YOU.

No go for it!

Message no. 1005[Branch from no. 939] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Monday, May 21, 2007 5:24pm Subject: Re: chapter 5

This is a very good relational summary Janita! It is very much what I am looking for in all of your summaries -- a personal relationship with the material. You know, as a trained nurse, that personal relationships can make all the difference in the life and death of a patient! We need to be personal in our relationship with everything and everyone we touch -- authentic in our engagement.

Thanks for showing me the level of interaction you can achieve with a subject when you feel related to it!

Message no. 1006[Branch from no. 958] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Monday, May 21, 2007 5:27pm Subject: Re: chapter 7

Again you have done a nice job on this one Janita, and again I think it is because the topic relates so closely to your nursing experience. It was a pleasure reading about your insights into the trauma nurses suffer doing their job and dealing with disasters! It certainly opened my eyes!

Message no. 1007[Branch from no. 931] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Monday, May 21, 2007 5:30pm Subject: Re: Summary

I liked this summary Dana. I realized that I am a "hugger" and wondered about my effect on people who feel invaded by this behavior. I think I am comfortable in the Middle East and Mediterranean cultures because they are very tactile. Strange that I should marry a German though... hmmm...

983 988 nature vs. environment

Message no. 983[Branch from no. 978] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Wednesday, May 16, 2007 2:37pm Subject: Re: Final pt.2...Varshawn

I like the way you set up your survey Varshawn, with the multiple choice answers. It makes it much easier to formalize and code the data for analysis!

I agree with your conclusions (similar to Adrienne's and Michelles) but don't get too pessimistic -- the turning point is near I think! Reading the book "Critical Mass" by Phillip Ball, which I have mentioned often, convinces me that things will change for the better even without most people being aware!

Anyway, now that you have got your data, just follow the same recommendation I gave Adrienne and Michelle -- list ALL your data so we know which person said what and can correlate it with their consumption, and analyse by pointing those correlations out to us and you have a winner!



Message no. 988[Branch from no. 985] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Thursday, May 17, 2007 4:07pm Subject: A job well done!

Consider yourself done with the final Adrienne -- you've done a tremendous A class job! This will set the standard for others to follow.

Looking at your data, I agree that the variables don't seem to have much explanatory value -- in fact the two values that you talk about but which are not specifically in your questionnaire -- income and the lavishness of lifestyle -- seem to have the most explanatory strength -- it does indeed appear that those who have the most money do the most consuming (which makes some sense) and are the most wasteful (because they can afford to be?). Interestingly, they are the one's who could do the most good (because they could immediately afford clean efficient technologies that are too expensive for others of more modest means). Unfortunately, most of my rich friends and relatives are the first to tell me that "solar is too expensive" (for example) -- I once told a rich friend in Malibu that I had installed a solar electric system on my apartment roof in L.A. for $7000 dollars on my teachers salary of 28,000 a year. He said that was way too expensive for him, but later that afternoon told us about his trip to Canada and Las Vegas the previous weekend where he had a great time - he rented a private jet to get to the Hockey game in Canada, then flew into Vegas to gamble -- the weekend cost him 50,000 dollars! Hmmmm. Values....

Interesting you should note that people consider "nature" and "environment" different things -- of course for the rich "nature" is usually preserved at some resort somewhere, and the environment of the rich is kept clean and healthy by gardeners and service staff... they are different things...

Anyway, no need to belabor the points -- you have done a marvelous job of pulling your data together and starting down the road to a serious scientific analysis. Thanks for spending the extra time! Hope you enjoyed this as much as I did!

Cheers and congratulations,

Professor T.

981 982 Peer Review

Message no. 981[Branch from no. 969] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Wednesday, May 16, 2007 2:29pm Subject: Re: Final

Thanks for your patience and mutual assistance group! My computer is on the fritz again, so it is great to know I can count on you guys to help each other toward clarity. Please take a look at Adriennes final and my response to see how you can create the "perfect final". As for when it is due, this week is a good time! We need to get grades in next week! I don't mind you polishing things us over the weekend though, in light of my comments!

Enjoy, and keep helping and inspiring each other!


Message no. 982[Branch from no. 972] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Wednesday, May 16, 2007 2:33pm Subject: Re: final part 2

Yes, it is an eye opener, isn't it Michelle!

As with Adrienne's post, can I urge you to give us all the raw data and tie your analysis to correlations that we can also see? This is what science is about -- PEER REVIEW. We must not only share our conclusions, but HOW we derived our conclusions. Otherwise scientists could just make up figures and tell us things like "video games lead to violence" or "the death penalty deters crime". In fact many bad scientists have done just that, but it is wrong to do. Good scientists present their data so the rest of us can see if we agree with the conclusions or if we see some other pattern in the data.

The idea is to lead us through the data and tell us why you think it proves what you think it does.


Do that and you will have a great final!


980 Almost perfect Final!

Message no. 980[Branch from no. 970] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Wednesday, May 16, 2007 2:26pm Subject: Re: Final Adrienne

Hi Adrienne,

Wow! This is an almost perfect final! I say "almost" because there is one piece missing that makes all the difference in science -- the raw data from which we can correlate the variables and look for co-variates. That is a fancy way of saying we need to know WHICH of the people you surveyed answered which questions so we can look for a link between, say, the person who said that "yes" they were a nature lover and the number of planets they use and their carbon footprint. If we don't do that, the data doesn't help us understand how environment and the psychology of behavior are related. Do you see what I mean?

So, for example, we would like to know if Person #7 used 3.6 planets, and person #3 used 12.9 ( a big range, as you have pointed out!), what did person #7 say about loving nature, about awareness of the five simple things they could do, and how did person #3 answer those questions? Where did they live? We should know this about each person. The data should look like this, for example:

Person #7 Food 2.6 Mobility 0.7 Shelter 1.2 Goods 2 Total 6.5 3.6 Planets

Survey for person #7: 1. Do you live in the U.S. or the Middle East? Mid East 2. Do you commute more that 10 miles to work one way? No, I walk to work. 3. Would you say that you live a stressful lifestyle? No, I live off of the fruit trees in my garden. 4. Do you have children? Yes, and they do all the composting. 5. Are you a nature lover? Definitely. 6. Are you able to identify more that one stress reliever other than drugs/alcohol? Gardening does it for me! 7. Do you have a college education? Yes. Undergraduate only. 8. Are you very concerned about the condition of our world? (i.e. global warming, quality of our food supply and water supply, clean air, the environment etc.) Very! 9. Do you consider yourself religious or spiritual? La illah allah illa allah! 10. Are you aware of approximately 5 simple things that you are doing to protect our environment? Yes, I use a fan instead of an airconditioner, I eat local produce, the meat comes from my neighbor's sheep, I take public transportation, we use the bath water to irrigate the fruit trees and use the sheep droppings to make biogas for the stove.

Person #3 Food 4.9 Mobility 0.7 Shelter 26.7 Goods 24.9 Total 57 12.9 planets

Survey: 1. Do you live in the U.S. or the Middle East?

U.S., Florida 2. Do you commute more that 10 miles to work one way? 150 miles each way 3. Would you say that you live a stressful lifestyle? Always! 4. Do you have children? Three 5. Are you a nature lover? Only on T.V. -- Discovery Channel 6. Are you able to identify more that one stress reliever other than drugs/alcohol? If I could, I'd go hunting. 7. Do you have a college education? Multiple degrees, up to M.D. 8. Are you very concerned about the condition of our world? (i.e. global warming, quality of our food supply and water supply, clean air, the environment etc.) Global warming is a myth - Michael Chrichton said so in a book I read on an airplane to golf in a resort in Malaysia. 9. Do you consider yourself religious or spiritual? Not particularly 10. Are you aware of approximately 5 simple things that you are doing to protect our environment? I take out the garbage on sunday, and pay my greens fees to the country club...

Note that I have obviously made up these answers according to stereotype assumptions that may have nothing to do with consumption!! Your actual data contradicts my stereotypes - you said that ALL claim to have stressful lives and that all claim to be religious. Thus those two areas are probably NOT covariates with consumption, as my stereotype answers would suggest. That makes us wonder "is there anything that truly differs between the low and high consumers"?

Can you give us the real answers for Persons #1 through #10, so we can see what patterns jump out, if any? And then, in your analysis, make reference to those specific values -- as you do, but so that we can see what the facts are and what your interpretation is. For example, you mentioned that the Florida doctor consumes the most, but that your brother in law in Saudi Arabia also is a high consumer, and you said that they have relatively similar incomes. The conclusion that one could draw from this (though it is most likely very wrong!) is that "hot climates make people big consumers." We would have to have a data point from someone in a cold climate and a medium climate to test this hypothesis.

Anyway, your job is not to do all of that, because this is an introduction to the methodology, not a Ph.D. thesis! But you are so close to having what I consider a PERFECT final I would love it if you could just give us that raw data and refer to it in your analysis, and with that you will be a model for the rest of the class and a contributor to the exciting and ever growing library of human knowledge!

Thanks Adrienne, well done!


950 Multitudes in the Valley of Decisions

Message no. 950[Branch from no. 946] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Friday, May 11, 2007 4:10pm Subject: Re: Relational Summary

What a fun summary Dawn (though it ends kind of abruptly, wouldn't you say... we kind of expected a summary to the summary, a "and they all lived happily ever after" tag at the end... some conclusion...

Your metaphors (the dog choker, and the "where's Waldo"for example) are great, and you paint great imagery.

Also, thanks for bringing new perspective to the idea of why people don't leave home even if it is dangerous. I think I go a bit overboard trying to paint people as rational, and you helped me see the powerful emotions that come into play when considering one's territory or home environment.

I think in terms of the way an environment controls our behavior we have to ask what our behavior would be like without the context of an environment to constrain it. What is freedom without an environment to act in? Don't environments help determine how we want to behave? Joshua Epstein (2001) quoted in Phillip Ball's chapter "Multitudes in the Valley of Decision" (p. 295 of Critical Mass) "When I'd had my coffee this morning and went upstairs to get dressed for work, I never considered being a nudist for the day. When I got into my car to drive to work, it never crossed my mind to drive on the left. And when I joined my colleagues at lunch, I did not consider eating my salad bare handed; without a thought I used a fork." The author also quotes Karl Mannheim from 1936 saying, "Only in a quite limited sense does the individual create out of himself the mode of speech and thought we attribute to him. He speaks the language of his group; he thinks in the manner in which the group thinks."

I think one of the tensions in our modern society is that we are uncertain to which group we belong. We are aware of a pluricultural potential for behavior and it is hard to design for so many cultural norms. At some point though, we do conform to what we each consider normal. I think our dogs do too -- I observe that many animals, particularly pack animals like dogs, do not exhibit a free range of behaviors but "choke" themselves into postures of dominance and submission and "appropriate behavior" depending on the social environment around them.

Your thoughts?

949 Clarification of the Survey

Message no. 949 Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Friday, May 11, 2007 3:55pm Subject: Coming up with the survey

Hi Class,

Varshawn sent me an email asking for clarification on the surveys. Here is my answer:

Yes, you come up with your own surveys -- pick the questions from the eco and carbon footprint websites you find most useful and will use and add to them your own questions about lifestyle that can help explain why people have the footprints they have. You then plug the information into the footprint calculators to get values for your friends and then try to explain the similarities and differences by the answers you get to your other questions.

For example, I put my father's footprint information in, and I found out his lifestyle would take 3.5 planets if everybody else lived like him, and I put in my uncle's info and found that he would need 8 planets. Now I want to know what the underlying differences are that affect their different behaviors. Yes I know that my cousin drives a gas guzzler and has a huge house and eats steak everyday and my father has a hybrid car. Okay. That went into the calculator. But what explains why my cousin is such an energy hog? Is it their beliefs, their jobs, their incomes, what?

It turns out , for one thing, that my uncle lives in the Midwest where there is no public transportation, where there is a tradition of having big trucks, where beef cattle are raised, and where real estate is cheap enough for middle class people to have big houses. So even though their incomes are the same, location helps explain the differences in their consumption. Also, interestingly, though my Dad grew up in the Midwest, my Dad saw Bambi as a kid and decided he didn't want to kill animals, and he moved to New York to be a writer, while his brother became a hunter and likes that "everything big is better" macho tradition. These things describe a possible "psychology of behavior" and that is what this course is about. See what I mean?

You should speculate on these things based on the questions you ask in your survey. As Philip Ball says in Critical Mass (page 296) "Not even the most ardent supporter of individualism could reasonably claim that our choices are truly independent. How in a society flooded with mass advertising, can we hope to make decisions free from the influences of our environment."

You might ask the question "how much television do you watch a day" or "do you shop at Best Buy" and see if people who watch alot of television have a larger or smaller footprint, or if people who answer yes to shopping at Best Buy have a larger or smaller footprint.

How you EXPLAIN the data you get is where you can have fun and be creative!!!

Mark Twain said, "there are lies, damn lies, and then there are statistics!". You may find, in your tiny data set, that out of 10 people you survey, 8 have an above average footprint and they just also happen to all love Alanis Morrisette (if that was one of your questions!). Does that mean that listening to Alanis Morrisette makes you consume more? Yikes, Alanis would hate that, because she is on a "green" campaign. But your data might show that! How would you explain the psychology?

It may be that listening to Alanis has NOTHING to do with consumption, but it was a case of the roll of the dice that your data shows a correlation! Remember CORRELATIONS ARE NOT REGRESSIONS, i.e., they aren't statistically significant. For example, as our textbook says, people who ate ice cream in one study were found to be involved in violent crimes. Does that mean that ice cream causes violent crimes? No, it just turned out that the crimes were influenced by a heat wave, and the heat wave also made people eat ice cream.

The fun of environment and the psychology of behavior is trying to figure out what causes what!

You don't have to come up with the survey all by yourself by the way == you can share ideas and develop it with other class mates!

See what you come up with!