September 15, 2014

Fresh Thinking on Product Purchasing

Set in the sweet spot between the opposing poles of unadulterated consumerism and asceticism, the below treatise written by Bruce Sterling presents a fresh take on how we may want to think about the things we own today, and the way we approach future purchases.

Included below are (1) some interesting excerpts, (2) an extended version, and (3) a link to the full essay.

(1)

Think of material objects as frozen social relationships within space and time.

Re-think your relationship to material possessions in terms of things that occupy your time.

Cheapness can be value-less. Voluntary simplicity is boring. Less can become too much work.

The items that you use incessantly, the items you employ every day, the normal, boring goods that don't seem luxurious or romantic: these are the critical ones.

The everyday object is the monarch of all objects.

The things that you use every day should be the best-designed things you can get.

For instance, you're spending a third of your lifetime in a bed. Your bed might be sagging, ugly, groaning and infested with dust mites, because you are used to that situation and cannot see it. That calamity might escape your conscious notice. See it. Replace it.

Get radically improved everyday things.

The same goes for a working chair. Notice it. Take action.

Someone may accuse you of "indulging yourself" because you possess a chair that functions properly. This guy is a reactionary. He is useless to futurity. Listen carefully to whatever else he says, and do the opposite.

You will need to divide your current possessions into four major categories.

  1. Beautiful things.
  2. Emotionally important things.
  3. Tools, devices, and appliances that efficiently perform a useful function.
  4. Everything else.

"Everything else" should not be in your immediate environment, sucking up your energy and reducing your opportunities. It should become a fond memory, or become reduced to data.

It may belong to you, but it does not belong with you.

Beautiful things are important. If they're truly beautiful, they should be so beautiful that you are showing them to people. They should be on display: you should be sharing their beauty with others.

Emotionally important things. Is this keepsake so very important that you would want to share its story with your friends, your children, your grandchildren? Or are you just using this clutter as emotional insulation, so as to protect yourself from knowing yourself better?

Think about that.

You are not "losing things" by these acts of material hygiene. You are gaining time, health, light and space.

The basic quality of your daily life will certainly soar. Because the benefits of good design will accrue to you where they matter – in the everyday.

For sustainability, it is every day that matters. Not green Manhattan Projects, green moon shots, green New Years' resolutions, or wild scifi speculations. Those are for dabblers and amateurs. The sustainable is about the every day.

Now for category three, tools and appliances. They should be held to keen technical standards.

You will be told that you should "make do" with broken or semi-broken tools, devices and appliances. Unless you are in prison or genuinely crushed by poverty, do not do this. This advice is wicked.

Get excellent tools and appliances. Not a hundred bad, cheap, easy ones. Get the genuinely good ones. Work at it. Pay some attention here, do not neglect the issue by imagining yourself to be serenely "non-materialistic." There is nothing more "materialistic" than doing the same household job five times because your tools suck.

This approach seems to be working for me.

I'm not urging you to do any of this right away. Instead, I am urging you to think hard about it.

The day is going to come, it will come, when you suddenly find your comfortable habits disrupted.

That discipline is not as hard as it sounds.

Their blissful absence from your life makes new time and space for something better for you – and for the changed world you want to live to see.

 

 

(2) Extended version (with additions)

 

My personal relations to goods and services – especially goods – have been revolutionized since 1999. Let me try your patience by describing this change in some detail, because it really is a different mode of being in the world.

My design book SHAPING THINGS...talks a lot about material objects as frozen social relationships within space and time.

[Addition: Are not all worthy objects the result of someone’s work and imagination; is there really anything else have we to give but our time and attention? Perhaps Henry David Thoreau put it best: “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”]

This conceptual approach may sound peculiar and alien, but it can be re-phrased in a simpler way.

What is "sustainability?" Sustainable practices navigate successfully through time and space, while others crack up and vanish. So basically, the sustainable is about time – time and space. You need to re-think your relationship to material possessions in terms of things that occupy your time. The things that are physically closest to you. Time and space.

The hours you waste stumbling over your piled debris, picking, washing, storing, re-storing, those are hours and spaces that you will never get back in a mortal lifetime. Basically, you have to curate these goods: heat them, cool them, protect them from humidity and vermin. Every moment you devote to them is lost to your children, your friends, your society, yourself.

It's not bad to own fine things that you like. What you need are things that you GENUINELY like. Things that you cherish, that enhance your existence in the world. The rest is dross.

Do not "economize." Please. That is not the point. Cheapness can be value-less. Voluntary simplicity is, furthermore, boring. Less can become too much work.

The items that you use incessantly, the items you employ every day, the normal, boring goods that don't seem luxurious or romantic: these are the critical ones. They are truly central. The everyday object is the monarch of all objects. It's in your time most, it's in your space most. It is "where it is at," and it is "what is going on."

It takes a while to get this through your head, because it's the opposite of the legendry of shopping. However: the things that you use every day should be the best-designed things you can get. For instance, you cannot possibly spend too much money on a bed. You're spending a third of your lifetime in a bed. Your bed might be sagging, ugly, groaning and infested with dust mites, because you are used to that situation and cannot see it. That calamity might escape your conscious notice. See it. Replace it.

Sell – even give away– anything you never use. Fancy ball gowns, tuxedos, beautiful shoes wrapped in bubblepak that you never wear, useless Christmas gifts from well-meaning relatives, junk that you inherited. Sell that stuff. Take the money, get a real bed. Get radically improved everyday things.

The same goes for a working chair. Notice it. Take action. Bad chairs can seriously injure you from repetitive stresses. Get a decent ergonomic chair. Someone may accuse you of "indulging yourself" because you possess a chair that functions properly. This guy is a reactionary. He is useless to futurity. Listen carefully to whatever else he says, and do the opposite. You will benefit greatly.

Expensive clothing is generally designed to make you look like an aristocrat who can afford couture. Unless you are a celebrity on professional display, forget this consumer theatricality. You should buy relatively-expensive clothing that is ergonomic, high-performance and sturdy.

Anything placed next to your skin for long periods is of high priority. Shoes are notorious sources of pain and stress and subjected to great mechanical wear. You really need to work on selecting these – yes, on "shopping for shoes." You should spend more time on shoes than you do on cars, unless you're in a car during pretty much every waking moment. In which case, God help you.

You will need to divide your current possessions into four major categories.

  1. Beautiful things.
  2. Emotionally important things.
  3. Tools, devices, and appliances that efficiently perform a useful function.
  4. Everything else.

"Everything else" will be by far the largest category. Anything you have not touched, or seen, or thought about in a year – this very likely belongs in "everything else."

You should document these things. Take their pictures, their identifying makers' marks, barcodes, whatever, so that you can get them off eBay or Amazon if, for some weird reason, you ever need them again. Store those digital pictures somewhere safe – along with all your other increasingly valuable, life-central digital data. Back them up both onsite and offsite.

Then remove them from your time and space. "Everything else" should not be in your immediate environment, sucking up your energy and reducing your opportunities. It should become a fond memory, or become reduced to data.

It may belong to you, but it does not belong with you.

Beautiful things are important. If they're truly beautiful, they should be so beautiful that you are showing them to people. They should be on display: you should be sharing their beauty with others. Your pride in these things should enhance your life, your sense of taste and perhaps your social standing.

They're not really that beautiful? Then they're not really beautiful. Take a picture of them, tag them, remove them elsewhere.

Emotionally important things. All of us have sentimental keepsakes that we can't bear to part with. We also have many other objects which simply provoke a panicky sense of potential loss – they don't help us to establish who we are, or to become the person we want to be. They subject us to emotional blackmail.

Is this keepsake so very important that you would want to share its story with your friends, your children, your grandchildren? Or are you just using this clutter as emotional insulation, so as to protect yourself from knowing yourself better?

Think about that. Take a picture. You might want to write the story down. Then – yes – away with it.

You are not "losing things" by these acts of material hygiene. You are gaining time, health, light and space. Also, the basic quality of your daily life will certainly soar. Because the benefits of good design will accrue to you where they matter – in the everyday.

Not in Oz or in some museum vitrine. In the every day. For sustainability, it is every day that matters. Not green Manhattan Projects, green moon shots, green New Years' resolutions, or wild scifi speculations. Those are for dabblers and amateurs. The sustainable is about the every day.

Now for category three, tools and appliances. They're not beautiful and you are not emotionally attached to them. So they should be held to keen technical standards.

Is your home a museum? Do you have curatorial skills? If not, then entropy is attacking everything in there. Stuff breaks, ages, rusts, wears out, decays. Entropy is an inherent property of time and space. Understand this fact. Expect this. The laws of physics are all right, they should not provoke anguished spasms of denial.

You will be told that you should "make do" with broken or semi-broken tools, devices and appliances. Unless you are in prison or genuinely crushed by poverty, do not do this. This advice is wicked.

This material culture of today is not sustainable. Most of the things you own are almost certainly made to 20th century standards, which are very bad. If we stick with the malignant possessions we already have, through some hairshirt notion of thrift, then we are going to be baling seawater. This will not do.

You should be planning, expecting, desiring to live among material surroundings created, manufactured, distributed, through radically different methods from today's. It is your moral duty to aid this transformative process. This means you should encourage the best industrial design.

Get excellent tools and appliances. Not a hundred bad, cheap, easy ones. Get the genuinely good ones. Work at it. Pay some attention here, do not neglect the issue by imagining yourself to be serenely "non-materialistic." There is nothing more "materialistic" than doing the same household job five times because your tools suck. Do not allow yourself to be trapped in time-sucking black holes of mechanical dysfunction. That is not civilized.

So. This approach seems to be working for me. More or less. I'm not urging you to do any of this right away. Do not jump up from the screen right now and go reform your entire material circumstances. That resolve will not last. Because it's not sustainable.

Instead, I am urging you to think hard about it. Tuck it into the back of your mind. Contemplate it. The day is going to come, it will come, when you suddenly find your comfortable habits disrupted.

That could be a new job, a transfer to a new city, a marriage, the birth or departure of a child. It could be a death in the family: we are mortal, they happen. Moments like these are part of the human condition. Suddenly you will find yourself facing a yawning door and a whole bunch of empty boxes. That is the moment in which you should launch this sudden, much-considered coup. Seize that moment on the barricades, liberate yourself, and establish a new and sustainable constitution.

But – you may well ask – what if I backslide into the ancien regime? Well, there is a form of hygiene workable here as well. Every time you move some new object into your time and space – buy it, receive it as a gift, inherit it, whatever – remove some equivalent object.

That discipline is not as hard as it sounds. As the design of your immediate surroundings improves, it'll become obvious to you that more and more of these time-sucking barnacles are just not up to your standards. They're ugly, or they're broken, or they're obsolete, or they are visible emblems of nasty, uncivilized material processes.

Their blissful absence from your life makes new time and space for something better for you – and for the changed world you want to live to see.

 

(3) Full essay here.

September 04, 2014

How to Create Custom PV Wiring Diagrams

Please feel free to take a look at the attached set of plans for a custom solar array built as a patio cover. Most projects now qualify for expedited permitting which does not require drawing up detailed wiring diagrams. In non-standard scenarios, however, detailed plans approved by a professional engineer may be required.