Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Collaborate with dead people

Ha. I don't mean to sound grim. But I've had two pieces of music stuck in my head that are making me think on local history and how inspiring it can be. One piece of music is this Natalie Merchant record called "Leave Your Sleep." It's a project that Merchant worked on for six years or so. I really admire how she gave herself permission to remove herself from pop-star life and take some time, serious time, to explore and discover something new. Or in this case, something old.

Merchant dug up old American and English poems, studied the poets, and set their works to music. What I've heard of "Leave Your Sleep" is about as far from a churned out pop record as you can get. (Not that I don't also love pop. Believe me, I do).

For a deeper look at "Leave Your Sleep," check out this TED performance. I also recommend buying the record. I plan on buying and giving several copies for Mother's Day. And just to make this post super local, I think Judy Hyman and Richie Stearns from the Ithaca Horseflies are on the record. I know for sure that they are doing live performances with her. They were on Good Morning America the other day. Seriously. Look for it.

The second piece of music that's on my mind is a rendition of The Erie Canal Song recorded by Suzanne Vega and Dan Zanes. I suppose it's common for folk singers like Vega to look to the past for musical material. But we non-folk singers should also look to the past any time we are in explore mode (which for me is almost always).

I stumbled on the song bc I drive along the Eerie Canal almost every day. Sometimes I walk along it. Every once in a while I read some history about it. What I love about the history of the canal is how crazy the idea of it seemed before it got built. And yet, there were a bunch of crazies who poured tons of effort and money into trying. They didn't even have real engineers in this country yet, but everyone was trying to build this thing. What a hoot. When it finally opened, barges were pulled by mules (like "Sal" from the Erie Canal Song). Then later, barges were powered by diesel. Did you know a gallon of diesel can carry a barge about 10 times more distance than the same gallon can carry a truck? Man, I wish that we could find the same mojo to create a carbon neutral transportation system....

The work of all these dead people gets me a thinking, for sure. Read more about the canal here. And when looking for new ideas, don't forget to collaborate with dead people.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Radishes, Ramps, and Random Craft

Picked up these radishes at the market today from. um. I did it again. I forgot the farmer's name. I would totally recognize his face. But anyways.

I got some ramps too and I cooked them up with some piggery confit and frozen root veggie puree from last season's farm share. It was tasty although the ramps are pretty strong. They are referred to as wild leeks, but they behave much more like garlic. This puree calls for something more subtle, like shallots. Next time.

I also picked up some embroidery thread and I'm just playing with the stuff. Here's is a little felt container that I made.

Not anything to write home about unless you like to write home about your process (and I do).

So, this is where I'm starting. It's a 3 sided container and in the first version (this is altered), the sides were made from square pieces of felt. Thus, it didn't have much stability when standing, so I snipped the upper edges and tapered them in.

It's fun to play with this stuff. I've never been much of a crafter, but I used to sculpt in other media. I see this as an extension of that.

Hackers and Sharers and Tweetups and Mittens

Local communities benefit from sharing knowledge. This past Thursday a bunch of smart, creative locals got together at the Pixel Lounge in Collegetown to host Ithaca's first IGNITE Ithaca. IGNITE is a series of five minute talks given by smart folks on hot topics. The talks are "sponsored" by the ever-innovative O'Reilly media who launched the concept in Seattle back in the mid 1990s. To find out more about the history of IGNITE, click here.

On Thursday night there were about a dozen talks given, but the ones that intrigued me most were explicitly about the spread of knowledge. For example, my colleague Matt Bernius gave a clever talk on file-sharing at the dawn of the print age. Matt has a gift for relating contemporary problems, for e.g., Napster, to the history of publishing. Then Peter Marcheto from itHACKa.org gave a passionate talk on the need for a hacker space in town. Hacker spaces are places where people come to gether to take shit apart and put it back together. A great way to learn from local tinkerers. Shira Goldberg from Share Tompkins (Ithaca is in Tompkins County) told us about the Community Swap Meets that she and her gang have organized. Why buy new crap when you can get your neighbors old stuff for free, right? Then Franklin Crawford chatted up his absolutely charming publication, Tiny Town Times, which is everything the local news should be - focused on local flavor and local characters (The DandC in Rochester could learn a lesson or two from these folks). And then the last talk wasn't explicitly about sharing knowledge (it was more about being humbled by great patterns at work in the universe) but the talk was given by Matteo Wyllyamz who organizes tweetups in the Ithaca Area. Tweetups are yet another face-to-face venue for locals to meet up and compare notes.

If you're looking to get some things happening in your community, I highly recommend organizing an IGNITE. They are fun, educational, and o so effective. 

To see the complete list of speakers from Thursday's event, click here.

photo by Franklin Crawford

Egg No. 4 for Beauty

Last Thursday, Beauty laid her fourth and, we think, final egg for the season. Incubation has begun - Archer and Beauty share that responsibility - and hatching should begin May 16 or so. More details in my previous falcon blog here and at rfalconcam.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Are female inmates entrepreneurial?

There's been a bit of research done on male inmates and their capacity for entrepreneurship.  As I wrote in a recent post, many of these guys got incarcerated bc they were entrepreneurs. They just happened to be entrepreneurs in illegal businesses like selling drugs or stolen goods.

This morning I attended a meeting at UofR with reps from a Prisoner Entrepreneurship Program (PEP)  in Texas, the Cornell Prisoner Education Program, and the social services sector in Rochester. First, let me say that I am so inspired by the work of everyone involved here. Especially the ex-cons-turned-entrepreneurs who shared some incredible stories ("Thank you for convicting me - it saved my life.").

Second, let me say that I'm disappointed that no one there knew of work being done with female inmates and entrepreneurship. Perhaps we assume that women don't have the same capacity for entrepreneurship as men. Or maybe the problem is not that the inmates are female. Maybe we assume that women born into poverty aren't entrepreneurial. But these assumptions are tragic. They're tragic because more and more start-ups are being founded by women, aren't they? And more and more women are gaining more powerful positions in business. And more and more funding is becoming available for women-owned businesses.

In fact, women who are born into poverty ARE entrepreneurial. When we look at micro-loans that are granted by Grameen bank, about 97% of the money goes to women. Sure, initially these women were insecure about starting a business ("I can't start a business, my husband always handles the money"), but with a little encouragement the women got over their fears. Interesting fact: it used to be that Grameen gave loans to more men, but when the money went to the men, it disappeared. When the money went to the women, the kids gained weight. Go figure.

Not only are women entrepreneurial but, I'd argue, they are more inclined to think about the long term impacts of a successful business (such as the health of their children and community). And we've one of the largest correctional facilities for women just an hour west of RIT.

Where do we begin?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Beauty lays her first egg!

Sorry. My falcon posts so far have been a little cryptic. I think this is because I check the falcon cam in the eves when I'm kind of worn out. But here's the deal:
In 1998 a trio of enterprising Kodak employees - Kenn Martinez, Brad Carney and Matt Bernius - placed a video camera on the steeple of the tower, aimed it at the nest box, and connected it to the Internet.
And well, you can guess the rest from there. I watched my first season of falcons in 2008. It was incredible to watch the eyasses hatch, grow, eat, and finally fledge. Emotional really. Then last year, 2009, was pretty dramatic, like, in a bad way. I don't have the energy to go over last year's events, but you can read all about it in the rfalconcam archives if you're dying to know.

What I do suggest is that you bookmark this link right here - the main camera - and check in on it once a day. Of course, nature is messy, sometimes things don't work out and there's always a chance that the eggs won't be viable. But take that chance. Check in on these local beauties and read the blog posts from the falcon watch team. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Could Co-creation + Rapid-Prototyping Save the World?

My Design-thinking class is working with a fashion firm who was once famous for employing an entire city to produce their garments. I mean, they had relationships with everyone from the folks who processed the wool, to the knitters and sewers, to the dye makers. You get the picture. In the mid-nineties, all of that changed. The firm started outsourcing production to Asia in order to keep up with their competitors who were doing the same. This firm that once had daily or weekly contact with all of the people along their product's value chain soon became just like every other fashion design firm - out of touch with the people who actually made their garments.

One of the questions we've been examining in class is "What is lost when a firm outsources production?" Of course there are obvious answers like the loss of jobs in the local economy. Or the loss of quality control - especially an increased difficulty in meeting compliance on environmental and labor standards. But other things were lost too, like the firm's ability to rapidly respond to the ever-changing interests of their consumers. Another thing that's lost is a sense of how and where and by whom is our stuff is made. And yet, we are trapped in this cycle of always wanting more.

Meanwhile, in other circles, excitement is growing about the ever-decreasing costs of rapid prototyping tools for laser cutting, 3D printing, and the printing of digital textiles. Additionally, there's this co-creation trend that you see on sites like CafePress that allow consumers - or prosumers (producer+consumers) - to design and manufacture their own stuff, like t-shirts. People want to make their own stuff and, more and more, they have the tools to do it.

Now, if you've been following Chris Anderson's "Atoms are the New Bits" or Bruce Sterling's "Spime Theory," then none of this is new to you. But I'm writing this here bc, well, it's been so much fun playing around with these concepts in class. These are exciting developments in technology and in behavior which, I hope, offer an opportunity to fix some of the things that are wrong with the globalized mass production machine we are engaged in at present.

How can designing our own t-shirts on the internet save the planet? Let me count the ways.
  • SIMPLE TINKERING. I know what you're thinking - designing our own t-shirts WON'T save the world. And you're right. But as with any new technology, we hack the small stuff first just to get comfortable. So today we design our own t-shirts. Tomorrow we hack our own  triple bottom line biz models.
  • IT'S A KEEPER. If we design and manufacture our own stuff, we may feel more connected to that stuff and less likely to throw it away just bc something new comes along.
  • JUST ONE. If we use rapid-prototyping tools to make our stuff, then we only need to make one, not ten-thousand.
  • SIDE BUSINESS for GARMENT WORKERS. I don't think crappy jobs at Asian garment factories are going away soon, but what if there were better opportunities for those workers? What if we, as consumers, could tap into the creativity of the folks over in the factories in Asia? What if we could choose from some of their designs? And what if they could make a little dough every time we did choose their designs?
  • LOCAL PRODUCTION. I now this seems antithetical to the previous point, but what if each city with a population of 100, 000 had their own rapid prototyping tools, right there in the heart of the city? Would the need for mass production abroad significantly decrease?
This pairing of co-creation and rapid-prototyping has so much potential to disrupt current production models that I can hardly wrap my head around it. But I sense that some day soon all of this won't be hard to imagine bc it will be right here in front of us.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Monday, April 5, 2010

Micro-finance & Prison Entrepreneurs

NOTE. Not all of my posts will be about local food as local social and economic issues are just as important to me. I'll do my best to tag my posts accurately in case you're just after the food stuff. But don't be, don't be just after the food stuff. It's all connected.

Ok. My friends know that I am very interested in micro-finance as a response to poverty. Micro-finance is a mechanism for providing low-income people with financial services. This is significant bc low-income folks are most often locked out from a lot of things many of us take for granted, like banking or small loans. The loans are significant bc, as it turns out, there are many entrepreneurial minds among low-income people. Therefore, if they can get their hands on a micro-loan, like $20 bucks or so, then they can start a business. And the payback system on these loans are based heavily on social capital and trust among their (local) peers. It's an incredible model. If you want to know more about micro-lending, look up Muhammad Yunus. He is the man when it comes to challenging assumptions (core quality of creativity).

I've just become aware of yet another elegant response to poverty and poverty related issues - Prisoner Entrepreneurship Programs (PEP). I'm going to a talk on PEP this Friday morning and will have more to report soon, but think about it. Many prisoners are in jail for non-violent crimes like drug dealing and possession. Drug dealing is an entrepreneurial venture. Super high risk, in-depth knowledge of your customer, quick decision making, and so on. But the paybacks are lame. Lame lame. The entrepreneur either ends up dead or in prison.

In the design field we are always trying to build on the ideas of others. Or when we are consulting a firm, we might try to build on that firm's strengths. The same approach can and should be applied to convicted drug dealers. Take that entrepreneurial spirit and know-how, and focus that energy on legit start-ups. Hmmm. We'll see if this is what PEP is all about. It sure would be a nice response to the poverty related problems we have here in ROC (like high incarceration rate).  I look forward to reporting more in depth this weekend.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Last season's roots, new greens, and tough guy soap

Dinner last night was an in-between seasons meal. As our CSA deliveries don't start up until June, we're left to fend for ourselves. LAMB is the official meat of spring though I'm not sure where we picked it up (this happens once in a blue moon). We rubbed it with olive oil and chives from the yard and broiled the chops - 6 minutes/side. Guilty pleasure: we topped it off with mustard from France. The ROOT VEGETABLE PUREE is the second to last bag we processed from our  winter CSA.  CSA deliveries definitely changed our cooking patterns. The pattern that worked for us was to let the veggies pile up, then every few weekends cook 'em down in a big pot, mash em up, and divi the puree into freezer bags and freeze. The frozen puree makes a great base for soup or a replacement for potatoes. Just add butter! The SPINACH was from yesterday's market - opening day! We braised that on low heat over some minced chives and garlic we picked up at Eddydale Farms a few weeks back.

I don't remember who we bought the spinach from or from whom we bought this bread. I think from here on out I'll pay even closer attention to these things.

I DO know where I got this soap. I LOVE this soap. 17th Century Suds - they make incredible products. Especially this Tough Guy soap. Too bad I can post how it smells and feels. You'll just have to imagine.

I believe in local economies

and am interested in how they develop here in upstate New York and around the world. And by "economy," I mean the ancient origin of the word - managment of the home. Why am I interested in this? Because I appreciate accountability and accountability is built in to the core of local economies. For e.g., f a local artisan puts lead paint on my child's toy, I know where to find her and can probably work with her to find a better solution. But when Fisher-Price does it, it's really hard for me to find, let alone talk to the person responsible for that mistake. Same goes for local farmers/corporate farmers, credit unions/mega-banks and so on.

I'm no economist here. I am a designer. And designers often prototype small, observable systems before they scale up. I think it's time to zoom back in, time to reacquaint ourselves with the economic systems in our own communities before we go any further in supporting this mega global economy that seems to have spun out of control.

Here's to a new journey. I hope that this blog inspires critical thinking and exploration. And I hope that and that we have some fun along the way.