links for 2008-07-29

Pretty Cuil Privacy

Cuil screenshot

New search engine Cuil has an interesting privacy policy (those links might not work right now due to the load). They’re apparently not going to track individual users’ searches at all, which, in comparison to Google’s behaviour, is quite a difference. As TechCrunch puts it:

User IP addresses are not recorded to their servers, they say, and cookies are not used to associate a computer with queries. The data is simply dumped as it is created. That means user data cannot be turned over to others, whether its via blind stupidity or lawsuits.

This strategy’s similar to an issue Scott Craver discussed a couple of years ago as part of his ‘privacy ceiling’ concept (I covered it a bit here at the time): effectively, whatever information you collect could become a liability for you at some point, so if you don’t need it, design the system so it simply doesn’t collect it in the first place.

Dredging up some old ideas

Three essays I’d pretty much forgotten about, written for courses at Cambridge during my Master’s in Technology Policy, linked here for no reason in particular:

Peer Treasure: how firms outside the software industry can use open source thinking
How can we strengthen links between entrepreneurial companies and entrepreneurial universities in the UK?
Motor vehicles in the developing world: options for sustainability* [all PDFs]

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How to fit a normal bulb in a BC3 fitting and save £10 per bulb

BC3 and 2-pin bayonet fitting compared
Standard 2-pin bayonet cap (left) and 3-pin bayonet cap BC3 (right) fittings compared

Summary for mystified international readers: In the UK new houses/flats must, by law, have a number of light fittings which will ‘not accept incandescent filament bulbs’ (a ‘green’ idea). This has led to the development of a proprietary, arbitrary format of compact fluorescent bulb, the BC3, which costs a lot more than standard compact fluorescents, is difficult to obtain, and about which the public generally doesn’t know much (yet). If you’re so minded, it’s not hard to modify the fitting and save money.

A lot of visitors have found this blog recently via searching for information on the MEM BC3 3-pin bayonet compact fluorescent bulbs, where to get them, and why they’re so expensive. The main posts here discussing them, with background to what it’s all about, are A bright idea? and some more thoughts – and it’s readers’ comments which are the really interesting part of both posts.

There are so many stories of frustration there, of people trying to ‘do their bit’ for the environment, trying to fit better CFLs in their homes, and finding that instead of instead of the subsidised or even free standard 2-pin bayonet CFLs available all over the place in a variety of improved designs, styles and quality, they’re locked in to having to pay 10 or 15 times as much for a BC3 bulb, and order online, simply because the manufacturer has a monopoly, and does not seem to supply the bulbs to normal DIY or hardware stores.

Frankly, the system is appalling, an example of exactly how not to design for sustainable behaviour. It’s a great ‘format lock-in’ case study for my research, but a pretty pathetic attempt to ‘design out’ the ‘risk’ of the public retro-fitting incandescent bulbs in new homes. This is the heavy-handed side of the legislation-ecodesign nexus, and it’s clearly not the way forward. Trust the UK to have pushed ahead with it without any thought of user experience.
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Donella Meadows’ Leverage Points

Scott Wilson first pointed me in the direction of Donella Meadows’ ‘Leverage Points – Places to Intervene in a System‘ [PDF, 93 kB], and it’s been very useful in thinking about the ‘Design with Intent’ idea at a system level rather than just the myopic preoccupation with armrests on park benches and interface design which it could have become.

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Buckminster Fuller on Design with Intent

Buckminster Fuller, talking to the New Yorker in 1966, quoted in this article by Elizabeth Kolbert:

I made up my mind . . . that I would never try to reform man—that’s much too difficult. What I would do was to try to modify the environment in such a way as to get man moving in preferred directions.

That’s what this research is all about. Design as trimtab, perhaps, with all the debate, decisions, multidisciplinarity and implementation issues that implies.

Many thanks to Rick Thomas for sending me the quote.

And on the multidisciplinarity issue, Metropolis currrently has a feature on Fuller including this perceptive quote from Chuck Hoberman (of Hoberman sphere fame):

“I think he’s [Fuller] been highly influential as an iconoclastic spirit, who never accepted that the boundaries between disciplines were anything other than something to be climbed over or circumvented in some way. To me that’s not so much a heroic stance as much as a very practical way to proceed in the world today. That’s also why he pre-staged a lot of what’s going on now.”