Archive for June, 2006

A smart generation

Thursday, June 29th, 2006

Here’s an email exchange I had with my 23-year-old daughter that gives me a lot of hope for the future. She is working in internet marketing and full of ideas about harnessing the power of the internet for business, and she is considering an application for post-graduate study in business.

Charlotte: I was listening to NPR this morning and heard two features I thought interesting. One about a site called YouTube where people post their videos for sharing and the other about a gamers’ convention in NY where the game designers are trying to incorporate social awareness into their games. It stirred some thoughts in me that somehow, though I can’t quite articulate it, relate to what you are thinking about regarding using the internet to do business in different ways.

My sense is that your generation has an amazing opportunity to change the way a lot of things are done. The internet has freed you from some of the constraints of the that’s-the-way-it’s-always-been-done business mentality, allowing you to create new approaches. Not only new ways to reach people, but also new ways to do business (and make profit) without destroying the world in the process. It reminds me of Bill McDonough‘s book, Cradle-to-Cradle, a really interesting, highly sensible, and fairly radical approach to manufacturing (design products and industrial processes so they create no waste). I’m sure plenty of people are thinking about this from other points-of-view as well. We also went to see An Inconvenient Truth, which is definitely worth seeing, and since then I am reading and hearing lots of references to the movie and to the reality of global warming. I have a small feeling that something may be tipping in the public’s awareness of the environment (at least the educated public), but perhaps I am too hopeful.

Seems like there is a common thread to all these things, but I’m not quite sure what it is. Maybe it is connectedness. Maybe the internet has so thoroughly connected us that we’re finally beginning to realize that what happens in one place affects everywhere else and that resources aren’t finite. What you are working on is clearly based on connectedness too. Maybe the thread is creativity. Casting aside old assumptions and approaching problems from a completely new (and technologically enabled) viewpoint.

Kate: YouTube is just one of a zillion examples of social networking and self-publishing (self-proclamation?) exploding all over the internet, fueled primarily by people of my generation. The result is a LOT of garbage, but every now and then, you find the occasional individual gem. And that bit gets spread around social networks like Word-of-Mouth on speed – to the point that within a week 60% of all internet savvy 20 – 25 yr olds will have viewed the same video, read the same email, or visited the same site – to the point that the original piece of content becomes a pop cult reference. In a week! Popular culture trends change faster today that they ever have, because of the internet’s unfathomable speed of accessibility. But more importantly, with “web 2.0” programs like YouTube, Flickr, Digg, Blogger, WordPress, Photobucket, etc, that make content creation and sharing extremely easy, accessibility to internet promotion is becoming increasingly unbiased. Anyone can make a home movie, upload it, and become a popular icon in a week. Did you know that [two friends’] spoof music video to Call on Me ended up getting over 4 million hits and became a brief Asian pop cult phenomenon?

The result is that people of my generation have an over-inflated sense of self importance. With the internet as our media channel, its like everyone is the star of their own reality TV show. But at the same time, there’s a hightened sense of closeness to people who may not be physically accessible. Thanks to email, blog comments, cell phones, etc, you can get in contact with pretty much anyone you want to. And furthermore, there are people always looking to get in contact with you.

On top of HOW people are creating social networks, I’m really interested in WHAT people congregate around. The best way I can describe it is a Cult of the Ridiculous. The stuff that becomes pop-culture reference material is always the same thing: Hilarious. Debauchery, wit, silliness, and sarcasm. I love that humor is our point of commonality and not stupid humor or slapstick jokes, its always smart person humor – because my whole generation is smart.

That’s another thing! For the most part, everyone in my generation was raised to be smart, active, and in some way or another, excellent. How else did we expect to get into college? Everyone is a valedictorian, everyone is a team captain — AND right now, everyone is coming out of college with a captain’s attitude, but no one knows exactly what to do about it. It’s not like college where you go to an activities fair and pick one, and start being excellent. Most people waste a year (or several) figuring out where to be and what to do, because its not listed out for them in an orientation packet.

So… what we’ve got is:

1) Everyone is accessible
2) Information is easily shared
4) One person can start a pop-cult revolution
5) My generation is universally linked by a specific type of humor
7) My generation is smart and active, but unguided
8) At the end of the day, everyone wants an excuse to be social

So…. It seems like the potential to create change on a massive scale is huge for my generation. But people just need a little direction. Fortunately, good-will business practices, sustainability, and general humanitarian moralism are super trendy. But still, no one knows what the hell to do about it. No one wants to go door-to-door handing out fliers or any of the traditional non-profit B.S., but everyone would love to be involved, if it meant, say – getting together for an improv event, or going on a massive bar-crawl, or something that is both social and activist. You just have to look at the cost-benefit from a new perspective. Cost is about time, benefit is about sociability.

I’m feeling really good about this new generation. Pay attention, Business. The 20-somethings have a lot to teach us.

Project time!

Monday, June 26th, 2006

Summer school is out and it’s two month until the fall semester, which means it’s Project Time! I’ve missed having projects, which are out of the question during school, and look forward to getting a few under my belt in the next couple of months. First project, to read all six Harry Potter books, has been accomplished. The next project is to build a platform bed for my daughter. Some ideas for a web project mulling around in my head as well. Not sure what will come after that (maybe try to finish my quilt?), but whatever it is, I will have fewer posts this summer. Here’s to summer!

Lighting lessons + a primer

Tuesday, June 20th, 2006

My current lighting class is almost over. Here’s some of what I learned.

First, the traditional lighting that most of us have in our homes – surface-mounted ceiling lights plus a virtual lighting store of table and floor lights – is terrible. The ceiling fixtures glare and create unflattering light on everyone and everything. The table lamps light the tables, but that’s about it.

Case in point: The lighting in my living room now consists of five table lamps (we just kept adding them because it was never light enough) and a ceiling fan with a light globe attached. We never turn on that ceiling globe because it is blinding, so we rely on the five table lamps to light the space. But it still feels dark, even when they are all turned on. When I measured the footcandle levels in in the room, I learned that it really was dark, majorly dark.

Second, although there are a lot of ways to successfully illuminate a house, wading through the enormous selection of luminaires available on the market is daunting. (See my post on indoor lighting for a sampling of firms that sell lamps or luminaires.) These products don’t come cheap either. To fix the lighting problems in my house I’d have to redo every room, tearing out walls, snaking wires, patching, and repainting. If I had time and money, I’d do it; I certainly can’t afford to hire someone else. I hate to think that good lighting may be one of the privileges of the rich.

Third, lighting involves a intense numbers game to distinguish among and choose from the various kinds of lamps on the market suitable for residential installation – from the ubiquitous incandescent A lamp, through halogen, compact fluorescent, and linear fluorescent, to the newer fiber optic and LED lights. Each one of these comes with its own beam spread, color temperature, color rendering index, base type, and photometric data. And then there are all the calculations – watts, volts, footcandles, footlamberts, etc – that one must do, or at least understand, to get the lighting just right. I’m good at numbers, but the sheer volume of all this information has me floored. The lighting professionals may have it all down (plus they have access to computer programs that do the calculating), but if I don’t have a handle on it after two lighting classes, then certainly the un-schooled homeowner hasn’t got a chance. (Commercial lighting is another beast altogether, with still more lamp choices. Because I chose a residential project for my current class project, I didn’t even touch on commercial this semester.)

So what can ordinary people do? Learn a bit about lighting design. Here’s a quick primer.

But first, some terminology. A “lamp” is the trade term for a light bulb. A “luminaire” is the term for a light fixture, often called a lamp in common parlance (e.g. table lamp, floor lamp). Luminaires are designed for specific lamp types, but each type may have a wide range of choices in wattage, beam spreads, color temperature, and ability to render color accurately. A “footcandle” is a measure of the amount of light that reaches a surface.

The main thing to remember is that good lighting consists of four different types or functions of lighting – ambient, accent, task, and “sparkle.” All of these need to be present in a given room or space to some degree, though sometimes one fixture can serve more than one function. The layers of different types of lighting create contrast, and that is what makes lighting exciting.

  • Ambient light is the background light that illuminates the whole room enough to eliminate dark corners and allow you to move through the space safely and perform general tasks. Whether this is low or bright depends on what kind of space it is – it might be lowish in a dining room, for example, but high in a wood shop. Good ambient lighting isn’t obvious. A bright ceiling downlight, for example, may light the room, but it glares in your eyes and creates unflattering shadows. A better choice for ambient lighting is to direct light up to the ceiling and let it reflect back into your room. You can do this with a built-in light cove near the top of your wall, with floor fixtures or wall sconces with opaque shades that shine only up, or even by placing small uplight fixtures on top your bookshelves.
  • Accent lighting is more concentrated lighting, usually directed at specific objects or room details, such as artwork, sculpture, a column, or a plant. Accent lights draw your eye toward the illuminated spot and create interest, but they don’t always provide good ambient light. Most track lighting and some recessed ceiling canisters make good accent lights, with the proper lamp. The beam spread of the lamp you put in your accent fixture will make a difference in the effect you get.
  • Task lighting provides light to successfully do specific or concentrated tasks, such as reading, working with tools, and cooking. Task lighting is brighter than ambient light and is directed where it’s needed, on the work surface. Here is where all those table lamps come into play. They are fine task lights, so long as they are placed so the light doesn’t shine in your eyes and the light is bright enough to see your work. An opaque or dark shade on your task lighting luminaire helps prevent glare and, so long as your ambient light is provided by other sources, won’t make your room too dark.
  • Sparkle is the lighting icing on the cake. For example, tiny white holiday lights and candles add sparkle to a space, as does light directed on a piece of crystal. Although sparkle is less important than the other three, it adds a feeling of liveliness and delight.

Even a couple of small changes in lighting can make a big difference in the feel of a room. Here’s what I’m going to try in my house until I have the time, energy, and money to chop up my ceilings and walls to run some new circuits.

  • Buy a bunch of small plug-in spotlights to place here and there. For instance, one on top the bookcase aimed toward the ceiling of my living room should provide some much-needed ambient light. One on the floor shining up behind a plant should do the same and yield some interesting shadow patterns.
  • Check my existing recessed ceiling fixtures to see if I’ve put the correct type of lamp in them so they’ll function as the accent lights they were meant to be.
  • Hang a big square of light-colored fabric below some of those glare bombs in my ceilings to try to diffuse them (far enough away so it doesn’t get hot).
  • Replace some of the ceiling downlights with tracks or fixtures that direct the light upward.

The most important thing I learned, however, is how crucial lighting is. An otherwise fabulous space will be boring in the wrong lighting and, conversely, a well-designed, layered lighting plan can perk up even the plainest space. Lighting breathes life into architecture.

Resources: Outdoor lighting

Friday, June 16th, 2006

Light what you need, not your neighbors or the sky. Lighting your neighbor’s house is a nuisance; lighting the sky wastes energy and creates light pollution. Read my post on light pollution, then choose your outdoor lighting carefully.

The resources cited in this post have not been vetted – they contain fixtures or advice that create light pollution, but you should be able to find non-polluting fixtures here too.

Your local cities, counties, or states may have regulations that govern outdoor lighting. Be aware of them.

Sources for outdoor lighting fixtures

Articles & information on outdoor lighting

International Dark Sky Association

Design Review Guide: Outdoor Lighting

Designing and Installing an Outdoor Lighting System

How to Buy an Outdoor Lighting System

Low Voltage Outdoor Lighting, Sam Satterwhite and Spike Carlson

Learn about Outdoor Lighting

Dark Sky

Monday, June 12th, 2006

If you were in a spacecraft looking back at the Earth at night, you would have no trouble seeing the evidence of habitation, for the earth glows with electric light. Although outdoor lighting serves security and economic purposes, its excessive use has created serious light pollution. The problem first came to public attention when astronomers working at observatories in the southwest United States noticed that their research efforts were thwarted by the light emanating from outdoor electric lights. But astronomers are not the only ones adversely affected by light pollution. Sky glow, glare, and spillover from outdoor lighting can create dangerous roadway conditions, and floodlight spilling onto personal property (“light trespass”) is not only a nuisance but can have adverse affects on people, plants, and animals.

  • Sky glow occurs in part from natural sources such as sunlight reflected off the moon, starlight, and atmospheric conditions, but most sky glow results from light that is emitted or reflected upward into the sky by unshielded or over-bright outdoor lights. Sky glow depends on weather conditions, the amount of dust and gas in the atmosphere, the amount of light, and the direction from which it is viewed. It is difficult to measure because it involves so many variables that change from moment-to-moment, but astronomers and lighting professionals are developing ways to record and evaluate sky brightness.
  • Light trespass occurs when light spills over into areas where it’s not wanted. For example, streetlights, floodlights, or advertising lights may shine through your window and right onto your pillow, making it hard for you to sleep. Like sky glow, light trespass is hard to measure because each instance is different and the whether it is “unwanted” is very subjective. Although light trespass has been largely ignored by modern lighting practices, it is coming under closer scrutiny and is the primary focus of many anti-light-pollution laws. In some cases, however, these laws are written by people with little or no professional lighting experience and often contain technical problems.
  • Glare is excessive and uncontrolled brightness that can be uncomfortable or disabling. Discomfort glare is annoying or painful; disability glare reduces visibility. In many commercial situations, premises are overlit with glaring lighting under the belief that an intense light level is required for security. In other instances, glare is created by advertising signage.

Unwanted light is a waste of money and energy. The International Dark-Sky Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing awareness and resolving the problem of light pollution, performed an analysis of the costs of the excess light produced by streetlights in the United States. The study, set forth in an information sheet dated in 2000, considered the 175-watt dusk-to-dawn mercury vapor lamp widely used for yard lighting, security lighting, and street lighting. It assumed an annual operating cost for this lamp of approximately $70 per year, based on average energy costs at the time. In Tucson, Arizona, with a population of about 600,000, the local utility had over 20,000 of these lights, costing nearly 1.4 million dollars per year to operate (this figure is surely higher in 2006). The population of the United States is 500 times that of Tucson, so the Association estimated that the annual cost of operating this type of fixture throughout the United States was as much as $700 million. Because 30% of the light produced by mercury vapor streetlights is directed up into the sky where it is not used or needed, these lights waste about $200 million per year in operating costs alone. This figure increases when the environmental cost of generating the electricity to power these lights is taken into account.

To rectify light pollution, research and development efforts are underway to develop technology to direct light where it is needed, in the amount needed. For example, manufacturers are designing luminaires that are fully shielded on the top, directing the light beam only toward the ground and that reduce light levels to the lowest required for the application. Click here for the International Dark-Sky Association’s list of manufacturers of sky-friendly products and other resources.

Other associations such as the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA), the Institute of Lighting Engineers (ILE), and the Commission Internationale de l’Eclairage (CIE) have developed or are developing classifications and guidelines for preventing light pollution. State and local governments are tightening their legislation controlling outdoor lighting, including requirements for shielded luminaries, lumen or wattage limitations, controlled operating periods, and the elimination of certain kinds of lighting.

Here’s an area where a little knowledge could go a long way. Including awareness of light pollution in all architecture, interior design, and engineering coursework and all lighting-related qualifying exams would help make more people aware of the issue. Let’s aim for a darker sky.

Here are a few more resources. A little research will find a lot more.

The blog experiment III

Wednesday, June 7th, 2006

My blog experiment is changing. Initially, one of my main ideas was to use the blog to develop a pool of professional contacts. The thought was that I would write insightful design posts, designers would read them and comment, dialogues would ensue, and I would fill up my Rolodex. Well, I’ve been writing posts, but no-one is commenting, no dialogues are happening, and I can’t say I’ve made a single contact through this exercise. At this point, I’m thinking that blogging is not really going to be particularly useful to designers for person-to-person networking. On the other hand, I have to admit that I haven’t made much effort to visit and comment on other blogs either and, as with any networking effort, I probably need to put myself out there a little more assertively if I want better results.

Meanwhile, I signed up for Google Analytics, which tells me how many people are visiting the site, how many pages they view, and how viewers got to my site, among other things. Apparently, most of my viewers find me by clicking on a link in another design blog that has added me to its list of blogs. Interesting. So, if I’m not getting personal comments but my site is getting visited, and if most of those viewers come through other websites, then perhaps a different sort of networking is happening. Is web networking more about clicks and less about person-to-person contact? Are web-links the new business cards? There’s more to learn.

Blogging, however, can be used in other ways besides networking and this is the second avenue of experimentation that is continuing in the blog. Clearly blogs are a great way to share information. It would seem, then, that blogging would be a terrific way to store information as well. So, I’ve started a series of “Resources” posts that provide links relevant to particular topics. For example, I recently posted a list of manufacturers of indoor lamps and luminaires. While this list is not inclusive, it does gather a lot of links in one place, making it easier to search for products for a lighting project. (This and other resource lists can be found by clicking on the “Resources” category on the left of this page or by looking through the monthly indexes.) Once I have a list established, I can add or subtract entries or add comments. Eventually, I might have a good collection of resource links covering a range of topics.

Otherwise, I am still going to write about being a design student and about things that don’t particularly relate to design but that I like or find interesting. Maybe the blog will open up a new world of networking or become a virtual reference source, but even it neither of these turns out to be workable, at least it will continue to be fun!

Resources: Indoor lighting

Saturday, June 3rd, 2006

Here is a list of lighting manufacturers and suppliers. (Does not include manufacturers who make only outdoor or emergency lighting or controls.)

Lamps, ballasts, & controls:

Luminaires & systems:

Other weblists:

May ‘06 Index

Thursday, June 1st, 2006