@ETech: Tuesday Morning Keynotes

Saul Griffith started the day with a sober, but ultimately hopeful, talk about energy literacy. The subtitle of the talk was “know what you can do, do what you can,” and the core of his talk (we’ll point to the slides when we get ’em) was the steps we need to take, individually and collectively, to be able to have a rational conversation about energy.

1. We need to understand the link between CO2 and climate
2. Based on that understanding, make a temperature choice. The planet is warming. The question is how much. Where do you want to stabilize the earth temperature? He set the dial at different levels and sketched out the different consequences we have to accept at each level.
3. Based on the temperature we choose, we have to decide just how much carbon that allows us to release. He pointed out that temperature stabilization can take 100-300 years.
4. Based on the amount of carbon we choose to release, we have to decide how much fossil energy we can use.
5. Based on the usable fossle energy we can use, we have to decide what clean energy sources we need to supplement the fossil fuel.
6. Based on what clean energy sources we have access to, we have to determine a new energy mix — and how we’ll engineer.
7. Then — and Griffith acknowledged that this “might be the hardest part” — we have to turn off our use of existing carbon fuels.”

He then showed how he is trying to change his lifestyle based on his decisions during those seven steps. He pointed out what we know already — that even reasonable, moderate people in the developed world have a big carbon footprint — and something I, for one, didn’t know — that public carbon-footprint calculators give low estimates.

As he listed the changes he’s trying to make, Griffith noted that the things he wants to do to lower his carbon footprint are things he wants to do already (eat less, travel less, etc.). If you’re optimistic about your ability to change, you can be optimistic about how we gets to his new life — and how we can.

Then Megaphone founders Jury Hahn and Dan Albritton delivered a fascinating phone-game demo. Their combinations of tiny mobile devices with simple games those devices play on a big, communal screen were both technically interesting and fun to play. Albritton promised us something “really, really weird,” and he delivered. You really haven’t lived until you’ve sat next to someone next to you in a dimmed conference room standing up, yelling “ribbit” like a frog, and looking to see if his perfect match responds.

Eric Rodenbeck, CEO of Stamen Design walked through some of his firm’s more high-profile visualization projects. Trulia Hindsight maps homes over time, but also reveals more (like where pollution is); Oakland Crimespotting reveals both patterns of crime — and patterns of crime enforcement; a project for mySociety shows how multiple variables — home prices, commute time — can be elegantly combined in a single interactive visual.

Rodenbeck spent some time showing how information visualization, while it may be hot right now, nothing new. He displayed some century-old pre-computer infovis examples that were”both beautifully arranged and scientifically valuable.” Then, as now, the best information visualizations are those where cool and useful overlap, where story and headline overlap. This dovetailed nicely with an obvservation Griffith made in his earlier talk, when he cited an 1896 article by one Svante Arrhenius that linked carbon with warming. We keep discovering the same things!

Sun Microsystems chief gaming officer Chris Melissinos, was there to talk about the company’s J2SE-based, open source (via GPL v2) game-development platform Project Darkstar, but he had plenty of provocative one-liners and observations:

* “If we calculated the carbon footprint for World of Warcraft, we’d all vomit.”
* “This is the first generation of gamers raising gamers.”
* “Women over 35 comprise the largest segment of online game players.”

Finally, Elizabeth Churchill, of Yahoo Research, reported on studies she made of public multi-touch displays, emphasizing how the real and the virtual interact. In particular, I was taken by her descriptions of how people learn to be part of communities of practice by watching — or as the online world calls it, “lurking,” an activity that is often dismissed. But Churchill maintained, “Lurking is an important practice. What we reveal in the virtual serve as the icebreaker for real life.”

I’m only giving a quick taste of a strong, diverse session, but I want to get back into the breakout sessions, which have started already…

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