On Hiatus

07/09/2010 § Leave a comment

I am going to be technically homeless (couch hopping) for the three upcoming weeks, starting a few non-degree classes at the end of August, and also catching up on Grad School applications that I’ve been neglecting (Due in Oct.). And this is on top of work and volunteering for PlaceMatters. Needless to say, I’ve got a lot going on… I will be stepping away from the blog for several months, and will probably return Novemberish. I have reluctantly started a twitter account… Most likely, if I share anything, I’ll be sharing it quickly:

http://twitter.com/natejowens

Definitely check out all the links I’ve collected over time. On the right side! Take care!

Nate

Sustainable Sim City Has Arrived With IBM’s CityOne

05/04/2010 § Leave a comment

A while ago I blogged on the need for a Sustainable Sim City game. A game that would allow different solutions to 21st century challenges to be experimented with. Well, that seems to have arrived. Cliff Kuang writes a short but good piece on CityOne on the site FastCompany. One interesting point he brings up: this game will promote many of the technologies that IBM has recently invested in.

Jailbroken iPhone Apps, PSP CFW Homebrew Apps

04/26/2010 § Leave a comment

In support of DIY and hacking your electronics:

I find that when I buy a device I can modify, I not only get more out of it, but I feel more connected to it. Moving beyond the company’s imposed limitations and exposing the raw device opens up possibilities; not just for the owner or the device itself, but for the development communities behind it as well. Amateur developers have a blank page in front of them.

I never thought when I purchased my used PSP from a 10 year old kid in the sprawl of Thornton, CO, that it was possible to change TV channels with it. Someone recognized the potential in the infrared hardware and worked with it to make it functional in a new way. And this kind of development is shared, for all the owners out there. Get a bunch of people together who share this homebrew development hobby, publish it all on the internet, and we get so much for our money it opens our eyes to the fact that we rely on the market so much that it stifles us.

We aren’t active anymore. We’ve become passive with consumerism and today our only experience of control comes from making the best choice from the products out there at any given time. Our identities are even caught up in this process. Just consider all the ‘fanboys’ out there who blog and comment their lives away in support of one brand of products over another.

Become active; wrench that technology or whatever away from the cold hands of the corporations and breathe some new life into it yourself. Do that and you will soon find you’ve had fun doing it and you’ve saved money (and ewaste) in not needing the next best thing out there. With some time though you’ll realize the most important part; that you’ve joined and enabled a community bursting with skill, creativity, and resourcefulness.

Now, my favorite applications…

Jailbroken iPhones and iTouches:

GlovePod– Pause/Play and change tracks with the volume and power buttons. This comes in really handy if you live in cold areas or don’t want to dig your device out of your jeans pocket each time you want to change a track.

Safari Download Manager– Download from within mobile Safari. Unfortunately, you can’t save files directly to your library. You access the media you download through Safari. iFile can help with that issue.

ProSwitcher– Multitasking on your iPhone. Be careful, this is a handy tool but can drain the battery pretty fast if you have several applications open at a time. I’m pretty sure you’ll need Backgrounder to use ProSwitcher.

AndroidLock– The nifty connect the dots security screen comes to iPhone OS.

LockInfo– The lockscreen hasn’t had much functionality until now. With several plugins available, the lockscreen can be flooded with information, obviating opening two or three apps to retrieve the basic weather or calendar info you just glance at for a few seconds anyway.

GriP ‘Growl for iPhone’ – Drop down alerts.

Custom Firmware PSP Emulators and Applications

eBook/pdf Reader– Read a scholarly article on your portable gaming console.

N64 Emulator– Plays some Nintendo 64 roms. Mario 64 is actually a great game for on-the-go. Remember, it’s illegal to download roms of games you don’t own.

SNES Emulator– Plays Super Nintendo roms.

Custom Firmware Installer– Bounce back and forth between custom firmwares.

PSPlayerMT– Watch video files: all sorts of supported file types.

I also should share this project I’m going to start as soon as I find someone with a soldering iron:

How to Make a Solar iPod/iPhone charger- aka MightyMintyBoost

The Big Post: Music, Brink, PlaceMatters and LivingCityBlock

03/20/2010 § Leave a comment

So, I had a bunch of post ideas over the past month but I either didn’t start them or I didn’t finish them. I procrastinate; I have other things going on. That said, I’ve decided to throw most of them into one jumbled weblog supersize post. I’ll touch on some music and a neat upcoming video game, then move onto naming some cool planning organizations I’m getting involved with.

Matt and I have frequently discussed the transformation of the music since the leak of Broken Bells. So many independent releases seem to be making a significant jump in quality of production and depth of the work. The blogosphere is quite aware that 2010 is a big year for music, and some writers out there note these big releases are a great start to the decade, but could we be seeing a sea-change that really transforms music? Transforms our society?

Beach House’s Teen Dream

This album gets repeated listens almost as often as Plastic Beach. ‘Zebra,’ ‘Walk In The Park,’ and the updated ‘Used To Be’ are lush and affecting and make my bus commute at night much more pleasurable. These songs seem to capture a mood or a situation with a poetic clarity. When the guitar or drums or cymbals move a song to a crescendo, Beach House are luminous and affecting. It is a great collection with some profound songs that do indeed take me back to my formative years; it is definitely an album to put down some cash for.

Beach House- Walk In The Park via Covert Curiosity

More tracks here.

She and Him’s Volume 2

I’m listening to this right now, and so far it is pretty damn good. Songs are varied and upbeat. I recommend taking the time to follow the jump below.

First Listen at NPR

Gorillaz’s Plastic Beach

It is either a slight feeling of embarrassment or a sense of due justice served when you view in iTunes how many times you’ve played a song or album on your iPod. The numbers are large for Plastic Beach. I have probably listened to this album 1-3 times a day so far. I even play it at work when nobody is around. What is immediately so interesting is that a major and talented group of artists are taking on issues such as pollution, environmental change, resource depletion, disposability, ecological destruction, disconnection and technology; all in conjunction with love, friendship, and other timeless motifs. What makes the album great is the variation of genre and the depth to each song.

The artists involved, not just Gorillaz, root each song in a situation or attitude that evoke their deeper meditations on nature, love, work, etc. While this shows genuine writing technique, it also provides opportunity for deeper thinking about these themes by the listening audience. The image of the only (I hear “last”) whale in the ocean watching ships go by is an image that sticks. It is on this image that the title track, “Plastic Beach,” is developed.

If you are haven’t heard the album yet, be sure to check it out. An easy 5-10 minutes here can help you find some of the best tracks and a bunch of commentary.

Before I move onto discussing an upcoming video game, Brink, I should share an article that I read a few months back and posted on bookface. Completely relevant to both Plastic Beach and Brink, this article by Johann Hari briefly describes how art may respond to our global environmental crisis. An excerpt from the beginning:

When I was a child in the 1980s, the threat of nuclear war pervaded the culture. It was there in movies, in novels, even in pop songs: I still feel a little pre-adolescent shiver when I hear “99 Red Balloons”. The mushroom cloud haunted every classroom. By comparison, the danger of a disrupted climate – which is not hypothetical; it has already begun – has been only nudged by our artists. There have been a few terrific novels, like JG Ballard’s eco-haunted oeuvre, or Will Self’s The Book of Dave, or Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. But they are the exceptions. The vision of a world that is six degrees warmer – a gap as big as that between us and the last ice age – has so far been described only by scientists.

Yet human beings need to process information twice; once as fact, and then as imaginary narratives that tease out its implications. It’s why we dream, and why we compulsively tell each other stories.

The swelling evidence of man-made global warming is now finally compelling artists into creation. The terrific new exhibition at the Royal Academy “Earth: Art of a Changing World” brings together dozens of the greatest visual artists in the world to respond to the climate crisis – and what it reveals about us.

Read the full article at The Independent.

Although this op-ed piece was limited to covering an exhibition, it did suggest that soon we may be immersed in artistic responses to climate change. Plastic beach is subtly and explicitly working to create an environmental consciousness. Brink, a first person shooter by Spash Damage and Bethesda softworks, is a more direct effort at creating a setting that may help people envision climate change while subtly educating them about sustainable design and technology.

Brink

A quote from Ed Sterns, Lead Writer for Brink, is the most appropriate introduction for this attractive game:

Ringed by a protective wave-absorbing breakwater, the Ark is a combined luxury eco-resort and floating R&D lab, producing new materials and technologies such as Arkoral, a revolutionary carbon-trapping construction material derived from genetically modified coral. With a population of around 5,000 visionaries, technologists, scientists, engineers and VIP guests, the Ark is towed to a secret location (you can’t get billionaires to pay for an exclusive luxury resort that anyone can turn up to). But in the 2020s, as the seas rose and nations fell into chaos, ships overloaded with desperate refugees set out to find the Ark. Most ships ran out of water and the passengers perished, but some did find it. Suddenly the Ark and its inhabitants, who had lost all contact with the outside world, had to find room for an additional 40,000-odd souls. The Ark’s founders would end up ironically referring to the new arrivals as Guests — much like the former VIPs, only vastly more numerous and not quite as fragrant.

How’s that for raising environmental consciousness? As a major first-person shooter, the target audience is likely those who need to learn about our environmental challenges the most. They are the gamers that play their inter-cooled PS3s/360s ten hours a day, and leave them running on pause all night, thus keeping the polluting energy companies rolling in the cash that ends up funding the politicization of climate issues.

But what good will the game be if it flops? Maybe the story-line ends up cheap and shoddy, or the dialogue lame. I wondered this when I first mentioned Brink to the owner of a local video game store and he reacted with almost complete lack-of excitement. What isn’t completely exciting about this game? More of what Ed Sterns describes about the game’s development reassures me this game will provide a memorable, possibly literary, virtual experience:

At Splash Damage, we believe that a game’s environment is the best narrative medium we have. Compelling environments allow players to pull in information from their surroundings without having to be held hostage by an NPC lecturing them on The Way Things Were. We knew we wanted to use our game environments to tell the story, so they’d need to be packed with detail.

We created a design goal internally called IDC:  Instant/Deep Context. Basically it’s the old axiom “Show, don’t Tell”. If we get IDC right, then when the player looks at a game asset they immediately and intuitively grasp where they are (that’s the “Instant” part). And the more they look at the assets, the more the cumulative narrative detail builds up, and the more they see how the game world works and how it came to be that way (that’ll be the “Deep”).”

Ed Stern’s developer diary can be found here, where two other Brink developer diaries can also be accessed.

Video and more at the official game website.

Planning Organizations Near Home

PlaceMatters and LivingCityBlock are two organizations in downtown Denver that caught my eye. I’ve been in contact with both of them and plan to do some volunteer work at each in order to gain experience and make some contacts in the field. To say the least, they are doing some exciting things. I’ll be brief in this post as the more I learn about the projects and people, the more I’ll want to dedicate adequate commentary all at one time.

Part of what PlaceMatters does is provide tools to communities who need to make urban planning decisions. Web-basted technology is a great asset this organization holds. Their goal? To aid communities in making sustainable choices. From the website (which I may be working on as my volunteer project):

anyWare planning is a suite of tools for planners that is web-based, free, and provides several interconnected ways to collect input from stakeholders, including methods for gathering input from people via cell and smart phone, provided from any place, any time. The concept of anyWare planning is that planners should not need several different software tools to effectively gather good information and input.  Rather, a system of web-based tools can gather, organize, and present information, and then ask for even more input.

Visit PlaceMatters to learn more.

LivingCityBlock is a project whose goal is to retrofit an area in LoDo with renewable energy, energy efficient design, and urban agriculture. I’m not sure what I’ll be doing when I volunteer; however, it will be a good exposure to the process that will happen again and again across the country. Read:

This pilot project is taking the area of 15th to 16th, Wynkoop to Wazee and east across Wazee and transforming it into a sustainable community. First, Living City Block will work to significantly reduce the energy consumption and environmental impact on these blocks.  By the summer of 2012, Living City Block Lo Do Denver will have reduced it’s aggregate energy use by 50%.  By the summer of 2014, LCB will become a Net Zero energy bloc, and by 2016 it will be creating more resources than it consumes.   But concurrently, LCB will be working to develop a thriving urban community, one in which people of all ages and types choose to live, work and play.   Right retail will evolve, better and more sustainable jobs will be created and kept, and the block will take its place as a part of the economic engine that drives the city and the region.

Visit their website, here.

That’s it for now. Electronics stuff next time… probably.

David Orr’s “Verbicide”

02/10/2010 § 1 Comment

I stumbled across this essay when working on the glossary page. I posted it on Bookface, and now I’m sharing it here. To say the least, it’s an important read.

OCTOBER 25, 2000–He entered my office for advice as a freshman advisee sporting nearly perfect SAT scores and an impeccable academic record—by all accounts a young man of considerable promise. During a 20-minute conversation about his academic future, however, he displayed a vocabulary that consisted mostly of two words: “cool” and “really.” Almost 800 SAT points hitched to each word. To be fair, he could use them interchangeably as “really cool” or “cool . . . really!” He could also use them singly. When he was a student in a subsequent class, I later confirmed that my first impression of the young scholar was largely accurate and that his vocabulary, and presumably his mind, consisted predominantly of words and images derived from overexposure to television and the new jargon of computer-speak.

He is no aberration, but an example of a larger problem, not of illiteracy but of diminished literacy in a culture that often sees little reason to use words carefully, however abundantly. Increasingly, student papers from otherwise very good students have whole paragraphs that sound like advertising copy. Whether students are talking or writing, a growing number have a tenuous grasp on a declining vocabulary. Excise “uh . . .like . . .uh” from most teenage conversations, and the effect is like sticking a pin into a balloon.

In the past 50 years, by one reckoning, the working vocabulary of the average 14 year-old has declined from some 25,000 words to 10,000 words. This is not merely a decline in numbers of words but in the capacity to think. It also signifies that there has been a steep decline in the number of things that an adolescent needs to know and to name in order to get by in an increasingly homogenized and urbanized consumer society. This is a national tragedy virtually unnoticed in the media. It is no mere coincidence that in roughly the same half century the average person has come to recognize over 1000 corporate logos, but can now recognize fewer than 10 plants and animals native to his or her locality.

The rest of the essay, after the jump to Oberlin Online.

Tomorrow or Friday, I’ll be posting pictures from tonight’s Girls concert at the Bluebird, as long as I get into the box-office line early enough. Opening for Girls are The Magic Kids and The Smith Westerns.

Glossary, Planning Tidbits, and Hitler Loses Xbox Live

02/06/2010 § Leave a comment

I’m a fan of words. I should have added a glossary of terms when I started focusing on sustainable happenings, but as a believer that dictionaries should be at least 8 inches thick, I feared getting bogged down by the upkeep and such. We’ll see if I become a hermit in order to keep it current. I’ll add it later this month. Its home? Right next to the ‘Photography’ tab at the top of the blog.

I do have a few somethings for your eyes and minds:

Livability to Become Requirement in Federal Transportation Policy

Fiscal Year 2011 Federal Budget Updates

And, something fun:

Feel free to comment on this post with suggestions for any glossary entries you think are important. Thanks!

Broken Bells, Laura Veirs

01/15/2010 § Leave a comment

I’m officially addicted to music in 2010:

All I really need to say is that Broken Bells is Danger Mouse+James Mercer. You can download the above song by signing up for the mailing list. You can preorder the album and get a download as well.

UPDATE Yes, the album has leaked online and it is fantastic. Be sure to preorder a copy (I’m getting it on vinyl) if for no other reason than to have the poster; this album will be a classic.

mp3 of ‘July Flame’ found at The Yellow Stereo