Monthly Archives: December 2015

Off Duty


Today, we’ll be off-duty, recovering from the holiday, which involved a bit too much food and the hassle of travel.   All to report from the home office is that yes, people are still ignoring reality, in spite of all the evidence.

There’s a bit of the Meaning of Life that is over at Decline of the Empire; always an interesting read.  A counter proposal is being mused upon, and perhaps will be available soon.


Moral responsibility


Talking about moral responsibility isn’t easy.  We all have our moral successes and failings, and bringing the topic up can be a touchy subject.   Your “moral failing” may be considered nothing by one person, and your “moral high point” might be considered a grievous sin by another.

In spite of this,  we should be at least be able to show others our own moral North Star, and try to sail by it.   It is also helpful if others can clarify what truly needs to be done (and not done), especially with regards to our working lives.

In the past week, I came across two people who work/worked in the real world (designers) who are shining of examples of doing ones work (profession) with a moral compass.

The first was Mike Monteiro, who has a classic presentation, “F*ck you, pay me,” which should be seen by every working artist or consultant.  That presentation was great.   Following some of his other presentations, most notably “How Designers Destroyed the World,” he brought up the issue of what designers should be working on. For example, he brings up creating an ad for a cigarette company; one is “a youthful indiscretion behind the barn,” but making them your life’s work is nothing to be proud of.   He’s also not fond of Facebook and Mark Z, who have screwed up people’s lives because of bad design (when 1 billion people use your service, even a one percent error can translate to 10 million screw-ups, all with potentially disastrous consequences).

In the talk above, he brings up Victor Papanek,  who wrote, Design For The Real World, who stated some pretty amazing things (way back in the early ’70s!). Picking up the book this week, it was apparent why he was so influential.     From the preface of the book (with shades of George Carlin):

“There are few professions more harmful than industrial design…

but only a very few of them. And possibly only one profession is phonier. Advertising design, in persuading people to buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, in order to impress others who don’t care, is probably the phoniest field in existence today. Industrial design, by concocting the tawdry idiocies hawked by advertisers, comes a close second. Never before in history have grown men [and women] sat down and seriously designed electric hairbrushes, rhinestone-covered shoehorns, and mink carpeting for bathrooms, and then drawn up elaborate plans to make and sell these gadgets to millions of people. Before, (“in the good old days”) if a person liked killing people, he had to become a general, purchase a coal mine, or else study nuclear physics. Today, industrial design has put murder on a mass production basis. By designing criminally unsafe automobiles that kill or maim nearly one million people around the world each year, by creating a whole new species of permanent garbage to clutter up the landscape, and by choosing materials and processes that pollute the air we breath, designers have become a dangerous breed. And the skills needed in these activities are carefully taught to young people.

“In this age of mass production when everything must be planned and designed, design has become the most powerful tool with which man shapes his tools and environments (and, by extension, society and himself). This demands high social and moral responsibility from the designer. It also demands greater understanding of the people by those who practice design and more insight into the design process by the public…

“In February of 1968 Fortune magazine published an article that foretold the end of the industrial design profession. Predictably, designers reacted with scorn and alarm. But I feel that the main arguments of the Fortune article are valid. It is about time that industrial design, as we have come to know it, should cease to exist. As long as design concerns itself with confecting trivial “toys for adults,” killing machines with gleaming tail-fins, and “sexed-up” shrouds for typewriters, toasters, telephones, and computers, it has lost all reason to exist.

“Design must become an innovative, highly creative, cross-disciplinary tool responsive to the needs of [humankind]. It must be more research oriented, and we must stop defiling the earth itself with poorly designed objects and structures….

“In an environment that is screwed up visually, physically, and chemically, the best and simplest thing that architects, industrial designers, planners, etc., could do for humanity would be to stop working entirely. In all pollution, designers are implicated at least partially. But in this book I take a more affirmative view: it seems to me that we can go beyond not working at all, and work positively. Design can and must become a way in which young people can participate in changing society.

Preface to “Design for the Real World,” by Victor Papanek. 1963-1971

We may not have, “electric hairbrushes, rhinestone-covered shoehorns, and mink carpeting for bathrooms,” but Mike Monteiro’s talk points out the oodles of iPad covers, useless and repetitive apps, and other such trivialities in the 21st century.  Replace (or add to) ‘industrial designers’ with ‘software designers’, and its relevance expands.   How many software folks work on games, or on useless apps and startups, all trying to be bought by Facebook or Google?  Anyone, from engineer to scientist can be included in the above; how many work on real world problems, versus trivialities?

The world has real problems.  We may not be able to solve them, but it doesn’t mean we should roll over and do nothing, or worse yet, contribute to them.

Questions for the week:

  • How close are you sailing to the true north of your moral compass?  What stops you?
  • How do you handle folks who sail against your own moral compass?  Do you work for them?  Do they work for you?
  • Not everyone can sail to the true north of their moral compass; what gets in the way?  What stops us?

Mike Monteiro’s talks are available on YouTube.

[Compass via Wikimedia Commons]



So, the Paris climate change conference has come and gone, and officially we’ve got some sort of deal.   I thought of riffing a bit on many pop-culture phrases regarding Paris (“We’ll always have Paris…”), but can you really make light of the farce that are those talks, with the stakes that high?  It’s great that everyone can agree on things, sure, but do you really think that after all this, we are going to actually reduce emissions?

Some of the most sobering commentary is given over at Decline of the Empire, and it is well worth the read.   The interviews that Kevin Anderson have given recently (suggested by a commenter at DOTE) are well worth watching.  He makes a great point about 100 billion dollars/year being a drop in the bucket; an “irrelevant sum of money,” for what is at stake.  Another classic quote: “Realism is problem.”

Not much more to say here, than it’s been good knowing you all.  But hey, it is Christmas season; just go out and be merry, right?


  • What do you think of the Paris talks?
  • Will anything really helpful be done?
  • When can you say that they have succeeded or failed?  If we hit 2C?  3C? 4C?  What would success look like?  A peak, and then a fall of average temperatures would say that something has happened for the better, but if we hit anything over 3 or 4 C, it might be moot.




When you meet everyday, generally uniformed people, and they ask if you if you see a bright future, telling them the truth as you see it can be a risky business.  If you tell them even a smidgen of the way things will probably go, you sometimes get the “we’ll find a way,” response, but even worse yet, the immortal words, “I bought a Prius!”


Buying a Prius will not save us (a bit of ‘net searching will tell you why).

Quite recently, I met one of those high-flying folks who are continually chasing deals and other “opportunities” in energy sector.   This was mentioned a few weeks ago, (Outside the Doomosphere) but it hits the point so well.   Of course, they were wearing pointy shoes, hip clothes, jetting about the world, the whole bit.  When they mentioned they were looking at firms that were trying to get even more oil and gas out of the ground, it dumbfounded me.  When bringing up the issue that we have to leave most of the fossil fuels we’ve found in the ground, they just shrugged their shoulders, and gave me a weak smile.

The world around us goes on, disconnected from reality.

Questions – anyone have any ideas here?  The disconnection from reality, especially as we go into the holiday season, is one we really need to face.

  • How do you deal with people who are disconnected?
  • What are some egregious examples you have encountered?
  • For yourself, what is your biggest disconnection?
  • What happens when you push them a bit?  Do you get an answer like, “I recycle everything…”, “I bought a Prius…”, or the usual, “They’ll think of something.”?
  • Did any of this come up for Thanksgiving?  How do you handle those big Christmas dinners on this topic?

(This is a short post; yes.  It has been a long week.)