It’s coming time to see all my people at the holidaze then hibernate for the winter with a few good projects. It’s time to look back at the year, remember what happened, and process it. Here goes:

LUNAR CLOCK, DEC 2013. This time last year I was finishing up a lunar clock that KR helped me with. This was a project that combined interesting media theory (a bit from Douglas Rushkoff’s Present Shock) with cool technology (laser cutter, arduino, and eagle). I enjoyed turning theory into a designed object–something I could hold in my hands. That’s me in a nutshell. In order to understand something, I have to build it and hold it.

GAME COURSE, JAN 2014. This year started with teaching a pilot course at Ithaca College called “Designing Games for Sustainability.” The class was small but we busted out two cool games. One was an arduino powered waste-sorting game and the other was a laser cut variation of Settlers of Catan called Wasteland. It was amazing to come up with cool ideas and then be able to manufacture and test them. Ideas into reality.

SUSTAINABILITY, MAY 2014. When the semester ended in May, I joined my ASU Sustainability crew at ISSST in Oakland for a great conference. And again in July for a desert retreat. Both gatherings were fun and enlightening in different ways. The former was in an urban setting and academic. The latter was in the desert and spiritual. What I love about these folks is that they value all of it. These people feel like home to me.

MIT >> POP UP DESIGN STUDIO, AUG 2014. In August I traveled with JC to MIT for a Scratch conference. There we met amazing people in the Harvard Grad School of Edu and were so inspired by their work that we came back to our makerspace and implemented a new project called “Pop Up Design Studio.” On the first friday of each month, we open our doors to the public and invite them to make art on the laser cutter. The combination of generosity on the volunteer side with creativity on the public side has been joy to be a part of.

TEACHING, SEP 2014. This fall I’ve been teaching 4 classes in the Integrated Marketing Communications program at Ithaca College and loving every minute of it. As an introvert, teaching 80 students is intense, but there’s nothing I’d rather spend my energy on. The program and the students have this great mix of business and creative thinking going on. It’s a pleasure and a challenge integrating the two – the practical with the wild dreams!

UPCOMING, DEC 2014. In ten days or so I see my family for the holidays. When I get back, I dig into some juicy projects for the winter: product design, electronic music, and a few workshop gigs I’ve got cooking. Winter is a great time for projects. Then when the sun comes out in May, there’s time for being outside with nature and friends. I like seasons and the structure they bring to my year.

LOCAL FOOD. On the local food side of life, I enjoyed a farm share at Sweet Land Farm this past summer and am now a week or so into a winter share from Full Plate Collective. These things keep me connected to the soil, the water, and the air. I’m grateful to the farmers who put it all together.

Let me know how 2014 treated you and what you’re up to this winter.


Beginner’s Mind and Clarity


There’s a concept in Buddhism that’s often borrowed by folks who teach creativity. It’s called “The Beginner’s Mind.” Adopting a beginner’s mind about a subject or project is supposed to allow us to be open to many more possibilities than if we approach the project as an expert.

This past week I found another great use for beginner’s mind. I was at Ed Tech Day at Ithaca College sharing the work I am doing with my students in the Department of Environmental Science there. The exhibit was titled “Arduino in the Classroom” and folks really enjoyed talking with me about it.

Part of what made the conversation so engaging, I realized, is that when it comes to Arduino, I am a beginner. Thus, when talking about Arduino I was much more clear about it than I am with what I have expertise in, such as design.

I found it easy to talk about the Arduino and what it means in the world. Most people think it’s something for kids, but I was there in part to correct that assumption. Arduino is the stuff that’s hidden inside of most of the products we use every day, but because it’s hidden inside folks don’t relate.

Which is why people are so easily excited about 3D printers. The stuff that comes off a 3D printer looks like something they might own or see in a store because 3D printing provides the skin of a product. Arduino is the guts. And it’s much easier for average folks to identify a person by their skin than by their guts, right?

Once I got them looking at the guts, I explained with a very simple example (servo sweep), how hardware and software work together to make our stuff do stuff. And then I explained how what we prototype on an Arduino can be made into a circuit board diagram and manufactured in USA, in a batch as small as three boards! And that was it. People got it. And they were amazed. As they should be. The democratization of this type of technology is amazing.

Thank you, beginner’s mind, for helping me tell that story.

Testing Generosity


Yesterday I tested a game exercise I developed called Generosity with students in Tom Seager’s Sustainability Ethics class at ASU. Generosity is a card game in which characters help fulfill each other’s needs with value that they have so that the players are free to do amazing things.

This is about the fifth time I’ve tested the game. Some consistent insights have emerged from the tests:

1. At the beginning of the game, some players struggle to fill out their “need” cards while others have a hard time filling out their “value” cards.

2. Throughout the game, players realize value that they didn’t know they had. (This is my favorite insight)

3. Players gain empathy for each other as they play the game and they reframe their value or create new value to align with other player’s needs.

4. Some players take on a “connector” role and help other players identify need-value matches that are hard to see.

5. Players shift their definitions of “generosity” from an act that is altruistic to one that has mutual benefits.

6. After the game, players incorporate the “matching needs with values” mechanic into their conversations.

A unique insight that came out yesterday was that brain chemistry plays an important role in being generous. Humans have a need for dopamine and oxytocin that can drive us to provide value to others. An interesting question that emerged from this insight was “Is the need for dopamine or oxytocin enough of a value exchange or can/should we evolve to create even richer value by being aware of  brain chemistry rewards?”

I don’t know the answer to that one, but it’s fun to think about. I truly enjoy listening to the conversations that this game inspires people to engage in. Thank you Sustainability Ethics students. The value of your engagement fulfills my need to understand how we can be more generous with each other.

Games that Promote Sharing


Im taking a board game design class at Ithaca Generator these days. I’m using the opportunity to explore concepts from my sustainability research, stuff that I normally read and write about.

The prototype here is for a cooperative game called “Grow.” The setting for the game is a Community Supported Farm. In the game there are six players – three farmers and three members (though in reality the ratio is more like 1 farmer to 75 members). The objective of the game is to harness the trust built into this network to exchange value. The meta objective is to inspire players to do this in real life. Continue reading “Games that Promote Sharing”

Defining Risk in Game Play

I’ve been trying to learn about games lately and talking to folks who are game designers or serious players. Last night I told a game designer that I want to create a game that rewards creative risk-taking. This designer responded, “It would be best if you let the players define risk.” That was deep!

As a design educator (industrial design, not game design), I’ve taught creativity and creative risk-taking in a variety of ways over the past ten years. One of the biggest challenges is to find the sweet spot on a spectrum between prescriptive and descriptive instruction. Too prescriptive and the student or player doesn’t take risks or do much of their own creating. Too descriptive and the student or player gets frustrated and abandons the exercise.

Another challenge is that different players have different tolerances for descriptive instruction. In design school, we graduate students once had a project in which our professor directed us to design something with “A Sense of Garden.” That was it. No further instruction. The project ran for 15 weeks! But my fellow students and I rolled with it, because design students are asked to do this kind of thing over and over until it becomes second nature. However, it’s hard for me to imagine engineering students being happy with this kind of instruction.

Which makes perfect sense. Engineers design bridges and if a bridge fails, the consequences are pretty drastic. People die and get hurt and the engineer may lose her  job or worse.

But do risk-averse people have to be risk-averse in every situation? Are some risk-averse folks irrationally projecting their fear of failure onto every decision they are faced with? If so, how might a game help them?

Perhaps, in addition to a player being able to see where her personality falls on a “prescriptive-descriptive” spectrum, I think there also has to be a way to see where the risk of specific situations fall. There are situations in which taking risks are okay even if you are a person who doesn’t like risk, such as in brainstorming. The outcome of a brainstorm is ideas. Most of the ideas go nowhere, so we might as well take a risk and come up with some crazy ideas. Brainstorming is a situation in which taking risks yields better results.

The game designer’s suggestion is probably right, I need to let the player create their own definition of risk. However, I feel that I should  design something that helps players create that definition. The definition will have two parts. One definition for their personal tolerance for risk; the other definition tied to specific situations.

What do you think?

UPDATE: link to version 2.0. If you play it, let me know how it goes!