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February 28, 2005

All Person's Right

These photos are from the US. Sure, there is barbed wire here in Sweden too, but we're allowed to climb over it. It's something called alllemansrätten. Basically, no one can be restricted from going in another person's "private" property. I can set up tent in any farmer's field, or neighbors yard provided I stay a certain distance from their house and don't make a mess. How great is this. Or... at least this is what I am told. I wonder if I can camp on the yard of the royal palace.

Anyway, I intend to make good use of this with my bike and tent as the days become longer and warmer.

Learning Experience

It looks like there is a small chance I may be able to save some of the more important things I had neglected to make recent back-ups of, but I'm not really holding my breath. I guess I have to find something to the learn from all of this.. make it a learning experience. (something more than just "back-up more often")

UPDATE: Wow! After trying to retrieve data via firewire and having my disk crap-out several times over the past few hours, suddenly I am able to copy the entire thing no problem. At least I have the things I didn't want to loose. Now I can go ahead and try to just repair my disk with Disk Warrior. If it screws it up at least I don't lose the photos... I hope they are good enough to warrent this headache.

UPDATE 2: It's all set again, thanks to Karl and Disk Warrior. Of course, it's never that simple. Now it hangs a lot and the disk makes a rythmic wrrrrr chrrrr wrrrrr chrrrrrr whrrrrrr chrrrrr sound until I give it a little tap or nudge. Then it can finish doing what it was supposed to. Whatever it is, I hope it doesn't cost too much to fix.... if it can be fixed that is..

February 27, 2005

Why did I ever buy a computer?

Tomoe is gone, so there is no shoulder to cry on (which is why I am crying here). I am sitting here alone fighting with my iBook wondering why I ever bought it. The dang thing just stopped today, no warning, no signs... just stopped and won`t reboot. I have searched all over the web and the only person who seems to have a similar situation was not able to fix it after tring Disk Utility (which just hangs) Disk Warrior (or something like that which is supposed to be the best recovery option). I can`t get into single user mode for some reason. I just hope I can get the things that I dont have backed up (such as my latest norway photos which I had not put on CD yet) off with the Target disk mode.

I'm really not looking forward to reinstalling and getting everything set up just how I like it all over again.... dang! dang! dang!.... dang!

And then there's that paper I was working on for my thesis today... only a couple hours work, but still....

Oh yeah, I noticed my bike has a flat today too. What a crappy day.

February 26, 2005

Europe on a (long) Shoestring

Tomoe is leaving tomorrow, so tonight we sat down and tallied up all the money we spent while she was here, including our trip to Norway, Belgium, Poland, and within Sweden. We didn't pay much attention to the growing total as we were spending, but we are naturally stingy people. During the entire three weeks we only ate out four times (two of those were just three-dollar falafels). All other meals were from the grocery store (and much better, I might add). One night, instead of staying in a hostel which would have cost a little over $30 per person, we took the train the opposite direction from where we wanted to go, just far enough that we could catch an overnight train back. It just didn't make much sense to pay for a hostel when we had already paid for unlimited train riding within Scandinavia with our Scan-rail pass. When it came to museums with a $10 cover charge, our strategy is to just read the books in the gift-shop instead which often tend to be more informative than the actual exhibitions.

Despite our tight-fisted ways, I was sure that figuring out how much was spent would send me into a deep depression, but I was happy to find that we we only spent just over $800 each for three weeks of travel, food, shelter, skiing, biking, hiking, sauna, sight-seeing, Belgian beer and chocolate, and traditional Scandinavian delicacies. Considering that I may spend $200 anyway if it was not a vacation, I adjust the total to $600. Not as cheap as Thailand, but not near as bad as I expected. It gives me hope that I can afford to go back to Norway later in the spring for more skiing.

It makes me wonder though, what do people mean when they say "Europe on a shoestring"? We averaged $40 per day, which I would consider to be quite extravegant, yet, for over half of those days we stayed here in my apartment, and half of the days we were traveling we spent either at a friends house, my sister's apartment, or on the train (we only stayed in hostels or guest houses for four nights). How do people do it without such free lodging?

(the photos are from Bay City MI, USA. The Norway photos will come soon)

February 24, 2005

Back in Bay City

While there was amazing cross-country skiing in Norway, I'm actually flashing back to the Christmas break where we did some skiing in Bay City Michigan.

February 23, 2005

Back From Norway, Belgium, and Poland

Just got back from my trip. I see that my server was down for almost a week while I was gone. Don't know what happened, but I contacted the hosting company today and it was back up within five minutes.

Not much time as I am catching up with a ton of emails, so for now I will just post a few of the several hundred photos from the trip.

UPDATE: For some really great photos of one of the areas in Norway we visited, check out vossnow. Use the left hand navigation to see daily photos from the Voss area (between Bergen and Oslo). While all the photos are awesome, the photos from 21.02.2005 are exceptionally great. Many of the other photos also show what we saw as we cross-country skied through the mountains.

February 11, 2005

Off to Norway

I'm just about to take off for Norway and then down to Belgium to meet a friend from my school days in Kyushu Japan (eight years ago... dang!). I'm excited about going, despite the anxiety I feel leaving my thesis group and work just when things are about to get rolling, but I will have some time to do some "deep thinking" about it, and part of my thesis requires me to take a much closer look at my own life than I have been up until now. This, of course, is something that I can do no matter where I am.

I am afraid though that it will be the most discouraging thing I do all year. Is it just coincidence that I am flying around Europe at the very time I am about to take a good hard look at my own "vision" and values? Is this a sign that I can't seem to recognize that I can live a complete and fulfilled life without compromising the life of any children I may have someday... just to save a few hours of travel time?

I had hoped to keep my feet on the ground for the entire trip, but it was not to be. Timing issues caused us to cave, and we will be flying too much... dipping into our carbon allowance for the next few years. It's strange and discouraging that flying is actually so much cheaper than taking the train. It just makes it that much more difficult to be strong willed. And if I who am constantly thinking about this, can't even recognize that I could be just as happy without flying around the world, what hope is there that others will?

Anyway, we will hop on a train to Oslo tomorrow, then a night train to Bergen, where we will arrive Saturday morning. From there we take a few days to work our way back to Oslo. Hopefully there will be much cross-country and downhill skiing along the way (thinking to stop at Voss for the downhill portion). From Oslo we fly to Brussels where we spend a few days drinking Belgian beer, and then fly to Malmo to see my sister before catching the train back to Karlskrona.

To those of you who have volunteered to be thesis guinea pigs, I thank you and I will be getting back to you with some more substantial information when I return.

The photos above are from back in Connecticut.

February 08, 2005

Tomoe's here

Tomoe just arrived here in Karlskrona for the next three weeks. having to juggle her, work, thesis, and a week long trip we are planning, I may not be posting as much.

Dear classmates, if you see this person wandering around town lost, please show her the way to Minervavagen.

February 06, 2005

Monkey tabloids and porn

The other day I was waiting in line in the supermarket and picked up what looked like the Swedish version of "People" magazine. It caught my eye because a photo of the princess, who has visited our class several times, was on the cover. Beyond the boredom of waiting in line, I have no idea why I was drawn to that magazine. It was interesting to hear this story on Living on Earth. about how mokeys pay for a chance to look at other monkey celebrities photos (they pay for porn too, but that part I understand.)

Researchers at Duke University have discovered that male rhesus monkeys will give up a portion of their favorite fruit juice to look at images of a female's hindquarters or view socially dominant monkeys - the same way humans pay for a peek.

Neurobiologists offered male rhesus monkeys a choice: take a large portion of cherry juice; or take a smaller portion of cherry juice and get the chance to look at photos of other monkeys.

On average, the monkeys would forego eight to ten percent of their juice allotment if the researchers let them view the faces of powerful males or a female's derriere.

But, the monkeys had to be bribed with larger amounts of juice to get them to stare at subordinate males.

February 04, 2005

When strategic thinking fails

Just some random thoughts I had today after two very productive meetings, one with our program leader, and later with my thesis group. (it's amazing how productive these meetings are compared to previous assignments which offered much less flexibility and opportunity to learn on our own)

  • Thinking strategically by itself does not help move a person toward sustainability. In fact, everyone already thinks strategically. Everything we do is based on a strategy, it is an action with an end in mind.
  • Some would disagree with my first point, and to some extent, I disagree as well. Not everyone appears to have an end "in mind", some people appear to be making random choices about their lives with little regard for the future. On the other hand, I would argue that they do make those decisions toward an end goal, it's just that that end goal is not explicit. In fact, if it were made explicit, most people would be appalled at what vision they are working toward, feeling that it is contrary to what they believe are their core values.
  • How do we define that end goal, or "vision". Is it defined by an accumulation of the persons real actions? Is it defined by the values people use to prioritize those actions?
  • I would guess that if we ask ourselves to identify our values, we would name lots of good things... stuff like peace, love, and happiness (regardless of our level of hippiness). If we then take a critical look at our lives, we would find that in many cases, our actions do not live up to our perceived values. Perhaps our actions would indicate that we value sex, drugs, and money above all else. The questions is then, which are our true values? The ones which subconsciously effect our strategy in life? Or, are they the ones that we want to have?

If it is true that everyone is already thinking strategically, in that they are moving toward a goal (either explicit or implied) but we also know that everyone is not moving strategically in a way that promotes social and ecological sustainability, what does that mean for the thesis question? How can strategic thinking increase people's ability to identify actions that can move them closer toward sustainability?

If I try to answer it now, I guess I would say that strategic thinking by itself does not move us toward sustainability. Strategic thinking is something that we all do naturally, regardless of the direction it is taking us. The only way it can move us toward social and ecological sustainability is if the goal, or "vision", is sustainable. In a perfect world, this vision would not have to be spelled out or analyzed, it would be just as ubiquitous as the unsustainable vision most of us are currently following, unknowingly, and even against what we think are our values. This is not a perfect world however, and we have an idea of success which does not stand up when compared to what science tells us is the only way to be successful. Since the lack of that vision is the only thing that differentiates the results of the strategic thinking that we all do, helping people to look critically at that vision and to develop a vision that is in line with what they would like their values to be, is "how" strategic thinking can move people toward sustainability.

The challenge then becomes "how can we help people to create a vision in line with their perceived values?"

We have spent a great deal of time over the past few months talking about creating shared visions of success, but what has never been talked about is how. We have never mentioned how helpful deconstructing an organization's or person's, current vision would be. It's frightening. It's one thing to think about what you would like the world to be like, and what you think you value, but imagine taking a close look at everything you do and why you do it, and then extrapolating from that just what the true vision you are following is... identifying what the real values that drive those decisions are. I'm guessing it aint pretty.

But then, maybe it's not a matter of people being out of touch with their values and the vision that really guides them. Maybe people truly are basing their actions on the "good" visions they believe in. Maybe people really are moving toward an explicit vision of success which they have thought about and aligned with their values. Is it still possible for strategic thinking to fail?

I would guess that it is. In this case it comes down to information and misinformation. If the person is making their actions strategically, with the end in mind, but do not have both a sound understanding of the physical limitations of the earth, and system dynamics, their carefully constructed vision may actually be taking them in the wrong direction, doing more harm than good, even if they are guided by a beautiful set of values.

So, bringing these thoughts back to the thesis. The answer I would expect to find for our question:

How can strategic thinking increase people's ability to identify actions that can move them closer toward sustainability?

Strategic thinking is something we all do anyway, and it can increase people's ability to identify actions that move them close toward sustainability if:

  1. A vision of success where understanding of sustainability is valid and in line with the real constraints of the physical system we are a part of.
  2. People have a basic understanding of system dynamics... realizing that every action has far reaching effects, many of which are unpredictable.

Without either one of these, our natural inclination toward strategic thinking has the potential to cause much more harm than good, because it will be taking them, and society, in directions which are not inline with their expressed values.

Is this a hypothesis I am somehow trying to prove? Does it even need to be proved?

February 02, 2005

Thesis Proposal

Yesterday I posted the basic idea behind our thesis question. Today is an attempt at phrasing it following the "thesis proposal guidelines" we received. I've never done one of these before, so feel free to tear it apart. Be as ruthless as you wanna (keeping in mind that this is only a two month thesis... so more of a big report). Of course, this is not the proposal we will turn in, since that will have to be a group process to make one we all agree on, but this is my "suggestion".

Strategic planning for the individual: answering the question “What can I do to move toward sustainability?”


As advocates for sustainability, perhaps one of the questions we hear most often is “But what can I do?” The fact that this question is being asked can give us hope. It means that there are people who recognize the need for action, and feel a passion and desire to do their part. The question however, is one of despair, a plea for help.

Traditionally, sustainability and environmental advocates have respond with books and web pages offering simple suggestions and to-do lists. “7 things you can do to save the rainforests”, “ten steps to reduce your global warming impact”, “50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth”. Yet, even with so much information available, concerned individuals are still asking “But what can I do?”.

Is it that people are not getting the information? If so, all that is needed may simply be more money to publish more books and hire better marketing staff. We, however, think there may be another reason. While there is certainly a large group of people whom are still ignorant of the fact that personal change is needed, from our experience, the people pleading for an answer are not among them. Those who ask “but what can I do?” already know the seven tips to save the rain-forest. Some have adopted these steps to the best of their abilities, yet realize that it is not enough. They are really asking “But what else can I do?”. Some, know that the ten easy steps will help, but to them, the steps aren’t so easy. These people are really asking “But how can I do that?”

What is missing is experience using a strategic thinking process. An understanding of how individuals can make decisions with the end in mind, based on a whole systems view and backcasting from principles of success. While the benefits and implementation of strategic planning processes for business has been known, studied, and improved for years, little has been done to see how such a process can be used by individuals.

Considering the obvious impact and influence of business and manufacturing on social and ecological sustainability, this focus on strategic planning for organizational success is understandable. However, we feel that to discount the individual, believing that the most they can do is to follow ”ten easy steps” fails to take a whole systems view, missing the connection between individuals’ private lives and the roles they play in the organizations in the biosphere. We believe that an individuals planning strategically in their own lives, can not help but to have an effect on the numerous organizations and communities they are a part of.

We must also recognize that individuals are not organizations. The same strategic planning methods may not work for individuals who lead complex lives, filling many roles as parents, children, students, and members of multiple organizations and communities. What’s more, individuals rarely make decisions based on a formal planning process. Our research will focus on exploring how a strategic planning process, including awareness of the system, basic principles of success, and backcasting can best fit the diverse lifestyles and existing informal planning processes of individuals, as well as how effective strategic planning is in helping them move toward sustainability.

  • How can a strategic planning process increase individuals ability to identify actions that move them toward sustainability?
  • What impact does a strategic planning process have on the scale and scope of the identified measures? I.e. Did measures that were previously perceived as unrealistic come to be perceived as viable (scale)? Was the participant able to expand the perceived sphere of influence to identify new measures in areas previously not explored (scope)?
  • What level of plan formality was optimal for various individuals?
  • What delivery methods of the strategic planning process methodology worked well?
    • High vs. low facilitation
    • Individual vs group
    • In person vs web based
    • Etc…
  • What are the stages of a strategic plan for individuals? And which stage of the process led to the largest increase in identified measures?
    • Understanding the system / stakeholder analysys?
    • Visioning (identifying values and goals)?
    • Analyzing the current state?
    • Brainstorming and prioritizing measures?
    • Monitoring?
  • What stages of the process could be aided by tools geared toward sustainability for the individual?
  • To what extent did individual political affiliation or bias affect the number of identified results? How did the plan differ based on personal politics?
  • Can a strategic thinking process create a an awareness of the need, and a desire to move toward sustainability in individuals where it did not exist previously?


The main evidence for our thesis will be derived through surveys, focus groups and case studies.

To create a baseline with which we can evaluate the effects of strategic planning on individuals’ ability to identify actions, we will survey a relevant number of individuals whom have expressed either a desire to make better decisions in their life, or have agreed to participate in good faith despite a general lack consensus of the need for change. The main output of this survey will be to:

  • Identify current level of awareness of the system
  • Identify any previous systems thinking or strategic planning experience
  • Measure the number of measures the individual can identify
  • Amount of time individuals would be willing to devote to further participation.

Between 20 and 30 individuals will be selected for further participation based on the responses to the initial survey, and the needs of various focus and subject groups. Individuals will be divided into groups of various makeup and size, such as small or large groups, groups of one, couples, families, online groups.

We will prepare different methods of presenting the strategic planning process to the groups. The variables in the presentation methodology may include

  • Time allotted to complete process
  • Depth of information
  • Degree of facilitation
  • Online vs in person
  • Amount of assigned homework

The participants will be asked to undertake a strategic planning process consisting of four basic steps:

  • Understanding the system
  • Defining vision, values, and goals, success based on sustainability principles.
  • Identifying current reality
  • Brainstorming and prioritizing actions to move them toward vision

After each step of the process, the individuals will be

  • Asked to identify measures
  • Debriefed regarding their feelings and impressions of the process.

Time permitting, we will follow up with individuals to see if they are having success in the implementation of their identified measures.

Expected Results

Despite the limited time available to develop an in-depth plan, we expect that overall there will be a significant increase in the number of measures individuals are able to identify as realistic

Some other findings we expect include

  • The visioning process will be the most difficult, but for those who are most able to adopt a systems perspective, this step will lead to a significant increase in identifiable measures
  • Participants will better understand their own values and goals after a formal visioning process.
  • Even individuals who may not have started with a sense of urgency of the problem will be able to identify some measures that have value to them. These measures will most likely be related to the well-being of the stakeholders nearest to them.
  • Small groups meeting in person whom are familiar with each other, such as friends, families, couples will be able to identify more measures than groups of strangers and groups meeting online.
  • Participants will have difficulty finding time to complete assigned homework. Most breakthroughs will happen during facilitation
  • Participants will have trouble implementing and monitoring a formal plan, but the main value of the process will be from a raised awareness, and a general tendency to make unplanned decisions based on a future vision and principles.

Like Quicksand?

Is trying to help just part of the problem?

It is time I take an honest to goodness look at myself and my life and to focus on making the changes. I need to quit getting distracted by the computer and the internet. I need to feel substantial again and I can't do that while continually living in an electronic world.

Butuki has announced that he is taking a detour from his blog, leaving the online world for some real life. I somehow feel a loss, and wish that I had made all the comments on his site that I wanted to over the past year, always thinking "I'll drop in to comment over there tomorrow". I'm always inspired by his ability to write his deepest feelings, the kind of stuff that I shy away from. So, I'll try to dig a little deeper here, and clumsily ramble on about the thoughts that don't usually get expressed, even if it is only the tip of the iceberg.

I feel extremely envious at his will power and ability to give it up. I sit here every day at my computer, facing a large window watching the days go buy, thinking about what a pity it is that we are so cut off from the rest of the natural world, the system that allows us to live. The more I think about it, instead of getting out there and getting to know more about that system myself, I start to feel like I have so much more work to do, and that getting out there is wasting time I could be researching something, or writing a paper, or maintaining whatever is left of my web-development contacts so that maybe I can use those web skills to help.

I have been thinking so much lately about my recent revelation that everything we study here is worthless, every energy efficient car, every low watt light-bulb, every solar panel, every company that adopts a strategic framework for sustainability... it's all worthless because these are all moving forward within the boundaries of a faulty "vision". The very fact that I can't think of a better word than the tired, over-used "vision" is simply a sign of my lack of imagination, adding to the general lack of imagination that keeps people like us sitting behind the computer, trying to find ways to fix our current way of living, unable to see an entirely new way of living.

Recently, I have been evangelizing to the rest of my class for the use of blogs and other social networking tools to keep and build our connections as we move back into our old lives in the fall. It's stupid though. It's trying to fit what we want into a world that doesn't seem to want that for us. Yes, we want to keep the relationships we have built here. We don't want to say goodbye to people. We don't want to loose the opportunities that would arrise from those connections. But what if, instead of trying to hang so tightly to those connections, we had the vision and imagination to see a world where we have enjoyed learning from each other throughout the year, but when we leave, in the name of living what we are here to promote, we stop promoting the lifestyle that we are fighting. Instead of spending more hours in front of the computer to keep those connection, we are strong enough to say "It was great. I learned a lot. Perhaps we will see each other again, but keeping (or building) our connection to the real world, the 'natural' world of which we are a part, is most important." What if we had the vision and imagination to realize that whatever relationships we have built here don't need constant nurturing through email and other unsustainable long distance communications. What if I could agree to take what I have learned from each person here, and make that the connection, making time and space offline for new connections to learn new things from wherever I end up next?

I don't know if this makes any sense, and I don't want to take time to re-read it before I post it, so I will try to phrase it differently. I wonder if it all comes down to the fact that by telling ourselves we are trying to help, we are simply making things worse. The last and only hope is if we can break from the only reality we know, where the things we like and value should be kept at all costs. Instead, we have to learn to value new things. While I value the relationships I have made here, should I strive to maintain them at the expense of the very concepts which those relationships have been built on? It scares me to think that in the future I won't be able to free myself enough to spend time outside, understanding the system we are a part of. If I can't do that, why should I expect that anything that comes as a result of my work will allow anyone else to?

I guess people will argue that unless we mobilize and network to "get the message out" or promote "sustainable development" we will lose. But what if we have already lost? Is it like quicksand, where the more you struggle the faster you sink? Knowing that the tools we use to frantically promote sustainability are themselves part of the very problem, are we not simply causing ourselves to sink faster? Sure, if we stop struggling we will still sink, but maybe it would be better to sink calmly, at peace, living a life in line with our espoused values and beliefs. Maybe it would be better to enjoy the last bits of whatever we have that is good rather than fighting until there is nothing good left and nothing worth fighting for.

February 01, 2005

It's not just "environmental" anymore

Why, for instance, is a human-made phenomenon like global warming - which may kill hundreds of millions of human beings over the next century - considered “environmental”? Why are poverty and war not considered environmental problems while global warming is?

-The Death of Environmentalism, via how to save the world

Yesterday we seem to have somewhat solidified our thesis topic. Today, I come across the Change This manifesto quoted above. Of course it should be no surprise that they are related -if there is one thing I learned this year, it is how to view the world and recognize that everything is related.

Our current questions is:

How can a strategic planning process effectivly increase individuals' ability to identify actions that move them toward sustainability?

At it's most basic form, the study will involve taking a sample of people who are asking themselves, regarding the environment "But what can I do?". We will have them list the actions they can currently identify which they feel they can realistically take to move toward a sustainable world. I suspect that many people's actions will center mainly on "purely environmental" issues, such as global warming or clean water.

Some of the respondents would then be taken through a strategic thinking or planning process which entails

  1. Understanding the system
  2. Identifying values / vision
  3. Taking a look at their current lifestyle and choices in relation to that vision
  4. Identifying measures they could take that would move them closer to alignment with those values and vision.

I am hoping that what seems obvious to me is true, that actively and consciously taking themselves through such a process will greatly increase the number of steps they can identify for their own life. The question is what is the best way to take people through the process, considering that people are not companies.

I think we will ask them to identify measures after each step of the process. It will be interesting to see where the major increase in awareness of their own potential will come. I would guess that, if done right, it would come right in the first two stages... understanding the system, and understanding ones own values, which, in my mind, brings us back to the quote above. If people understand the system, and are able to realize the connection between "pure environment" issues, and everything else, the number of actions they identify will increase simply because they now realize that it is not just about turning off the lights, but that every action they take is related to everything else. The second factor I expect may have an effect, would be a greater understanding of their own values and a vision of where they want to be. In theory, this should allow them to see that life-changing actions which they previously saw as impossible, or not worth it, will suddenly fall within the realm of reality. The other two steps are simply formalities which may be more helpful in large organizations than in individuals.

While we are painfully aware of the time and resource constraints we are under, we would love to be able to facilitate the strategic thinking / planning process through a variety of delivery methods. Some individually, some in groups, some as a family, some online, online in groups, etc... to find out just what works best.

Anyone want to take part or have any suggestions?