2018 in Review

I’ve always meant to do year reviews, but most of the time, I felt so unhappy with what I’ve achieved in the year, that I’ve almost never had the energy to take it out the drafts folder in whatever blogging tool I’m using that year. Doing this is scary, but I’m hoping the public aspect of it will help me be honest with myself when setting goals in 2019.

Goals I set for 2018, at the end of 2017.

Rejig my flat so work life is separated from the rest of my life.

I did this. I’ve converted former bedroom into a home office, and fit a mezzanine floor in the lounge, so it provides a sleeping area in the main leisure place.

It’s much easier to host friends when they visit now, and my flat feels more like my home, rather than a place where I couldn’t make a relationship work with the person I moved into it with.

I’m really happy about this, and whenever I travel, I am excited about coming home, seeing how the plants have grown and generally having a place of calm and recovery.

Hit 68kg weight again

Yup, did this too, in the first 3 months, mainly through cutting back on food, running more and doing freeletics. Felt good.

Then I totally fell off the wagon, and put it back on later, during my first long holiday outside of Europe (see below – Bali)

Did the Berlin Half marathon in less than two hours

I nailed this too – whoop whoop!

I wasn’t sure I could make this time, but I think I can beat it in 2019, as long as I remember to focus on distance work – I focussed on faster, shorter runs this year, and I think I want to get better at longer distance in 2019.

Do 80k of billable work

Meh. I didn’t make this goal.

I was able to keep the wolves at bay, but I spent way more time on interesting, but speculative stuff, and figuring out where I want to carve out a fulfilling niche professionally, instead of spending time doing more quotidien billable work.

This the thing about being self employed. You can pick what to work on, but it also requires a degree of discipline to make sure you have a full pipeline of work, and I didn’t manage this for parts of 2018. On the bright side, it looks like I’m basically booked til October 2019 already…

Find a way to work on environmental web work full time

Delivering a talk on a Planet Friendly Web at the Data Natives meetup in Berlin

I have a really nerdy dream I want to work towards, of the entire web running entirely on renewable power.

I think I might have had some success finding a way to work on this, but I don’t want to jinx it until I can speak publicly about it in 2019. I’ll update this one when I know for sure if it landed or not.

Be a recognised authority in Wardley Mapping

Julie Pierce from the UK Food Standards Agency speaking at Mapcamp

I helped organise the second MapCamp, a 400 person conference after speaking there the time year before, but I failed to finish some working on Cartograph, a related project before the year was out.

I think the energy I would have spent on this I ended up immersing myself in ResearchOps related stuff, which I’ll touch on later.

Sort out Irish Citizenship

This is an awkward one for me to talk about, as I’m reliant on other family members feeling like Brexit is a sufficiently urgent and important issue, to get past some awkward conversations.

I can’t really say more than that, but I remain hopeful.

Other highlights

Going to Bali

I did actually surf, but this is a more entertaining pic, than the ones I could find

As I mentioned before, I went on my first holiday in yonks, and my first long haul flight in years. I read loads of books, and learned to surf, and saw members of my family I hadn’t seen since 2009. It was masses of fun, and I’ll treasure the memories from it.

I was conflicted about the huge carbon footprint of the flight, and finding an way to offset that I felt was meaningful turned out to be pretty pricey (120 EUR from a ~750 EUR ticket). It was however a trigger to learn loads about our options are for potential for carbon neutral aviation in the future.

Workshops and events

I mentioned spending a time chasing interesting, speculative work instead of doing billable work. It largely came in the form of running workshops and unconferences as a way to explore areas I wanted to learn more about, and find people help me understand new domains.


Creating a programme from audience-proposed sessions at the OMGDPR unconference

I organised OMGDPR – my first unconference. Unsurprisingly, it was about GDPR, and building digital products with respected people’s privacy better. I worked with Tiffany and Maik, and had a real blast doing so. It also got me a to JSConf EU, possibly the biggest, glitziest conference I’ve ever been to, and going there made me certain I want to find a way to speak there in future.


Working through the What is ResearchOps workshop in Berlin

After getting to know Kate, and then meeting her in London, I got quite involved in growing the ResearchOps community, and running a workshop in Berlin about the subject.

I’ve found it a fantastic way to learn about building and managing communities, and it’s really helped me develop an understanding of how organisations learn, and how sense-making is distributed through them. I’ve also made friends, and it’s been a fantastic example of an international collaboration where I’ve been able to work with people literally tens of thousands of kilometres from me, on fuzzy, hard to nail down stuff.

It’s also been a nice complement to the work I’ve been doing on Wardley Mapping.

Beyond Wedges and Bits und Bäume

Friends helping out with a test run of the workshop

When thinking through the renewable powered web thing, I’ve ended up thinking a lot about what a society that avoided catastrophic climate change would look like, and how people communicate using games and so on. I came across the Princeton Wedges, as tool for climate communication, and I worked a friend, Alper to run a workshop about it at a Sustainability and Tech conference held art Frei University in November. I’ve learned a lot from running game now, and it’s really helped me think about how to talk about the extend of changes needed if we want to stay inside safe limits of global warming.

Designing out Waste

Dr Isabel Ordenez taking workshop attendees through the content at Thingscon

Also this year, I wanted to develop a more rigorous way of thinking about sustainability when I’m talking to others in the tech industry, and especially when we look beyond working with digital products. I was lucky enough to make friends with Isabel, someone who has thought about it much longer and much harder than I have, and we ended up running a workshop at Thingscon in Rotterdamn too.

Other professional work

I did some other work I’m proud of too.

Contributing code to Firefox

I got my first code accepted into the Firefox browser. It’s a trivial patch, but it’s still my code in a product hundreds of millions of people use, which feels great, and did wonders for my own self doubt about my own coding skills after last year.

Working on Climate Change and Open Data

I’ve also been working on a project with Spendnetwork where we take public spending data, and use it to identify when and where key spending decisions in public sector that will lock in large amounts of carbon emissions.

The goal is to help organisations understand how to reach the targets being passed by their own governing bodies, but also provide more transparency in this field too. It feels like I’m fighting for the good guys when I work on it, and I’m really enjoying it. We’re actively looking for Django developers interested in working with us, so if this sounds like it might be up your street please get in touch.

What do I want next year?

That’s a separate post, but in short, want to go deeper, on fewer things next year. Historically, given my attention span, this will be a challenge, but it seems worth trying.

Looking for info on carbon emissions by activity

Hello internet – I’m doing one of those requests  for help again. I pasted this to Facebook friends recently, but it seems worth putting here on my blog as well:

Okay facebook friends, I need your help.

Y’know how companies and orgs have CSR reports where they list their sources of emissions, and roughly what proportions of these emissions their activities represent?

I’m looking for stats like this on:

a) public sector bodies that employ lots of people but are primarily office based
b) service based companies or high tech companies that sell digital products

I’m asking this as even now, I couldn’t tell you where I think the biggest sources of emissions in the majority of service-based organisations are, and have the data to back my reckons, and I don’t think that many of you can either.

If we don’t have this, how can we know we’re being effective?

If you can share this with me, I’ll start making viz and graphics, so at a glance we can have a more informed convo about this. I started doing this when I read drawdown recently to help me understand it better, and I want to do the same for something closer to home:

Yes, I know every company is unique.

But there will be patterns. We commute. We spend energy keeping people mostly warm and dry so they can be effective. We often have high paid people travelling quickly around the world.

Sure I know people who have access to this information?

Please share if you can – I’ve looked around and I’ve failed so far to find any thing usable at the organisation level.

More notes

I’m aware of scoped emissions according to the GHG Corporate Standard, and I’m aware you can infer some kinds of activity from the distribution of an organisations’ emissions among scopes 1, 2, and 3.

This was one of the key ideas behind the stuff we were building at AMEE (Avoid Mass Exinction Engine), when I was as developer and product manager there.

The thing I’m looking for in particular is the kind of activity – what’s the mean percentage for air travel, or office use and so on?

Is this data published in any aggregate form? That there is the thing I’m trying to understand.

Looking for playtesters for “Beyond Climate Wedges” a educational game about climate change policy

(Update – we’re running this on Wednesday 6.30, on 14th Nov at Factory Mitte, as it’s reasonably central, and getting a room didn’t cost anything. Please get in touch if you’d like to come along)

It’s easy to find the sheer scale of the changes ahead of us daunting if we want to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change, and when we see scary graphs like this showing how quickly we need  to decarbonise – and these are just for 2 degrees, not 1.5.

2017-06-09 Planet Friendly Web Development with Python - pics.006

One communications tool that’s been used to help people get their head around just what’s needed, and how much we can achieve with technology avaialable today is the Climate Stablisation Wedges Game from Harvard, made in 2007.

It’s called the “Climate Wedges” or “Harvard Wedge” game, because the goal is to, in groups, put together a portfolio of different technologies and interventions (the wedges) that when combined allow us to go from ever increasing emissions, to a more stable flat amount of CO2 being emitted – combining the wedges adds up to meaningful reductions.

It’s easier to see it graphically, like below:wedges_figure2_8

This game has been used in schools, university and business seminars to help with conversation about climate change, and one of the reasons it’s been successful is it’s simplicity – you choose from a collection of wedges in your group, based on your different priorities, then you explain you decisions to the other groups. The wedges act as a prop to help you talk about what’s needed, and also see what we have at our disposal right now.

It’s also pleasingly tactile, and relatively easy to teach.



Going to zero, not just stabilisation

The thing is though, the stakes are higher now. This was the rough goal of the original Wedges game back in the mid 2000’s:

This is a recent figure from the most IPCC report on staying in 1.5 degrees C of warming. We’re not talking about stablisation any more – we’re talking about an aggressive, re-tool the-planet-like-our-lives-depended-on-it reduction now:

Screen Shot 2018-10-19 at 13.40.02

What does this even look like?

Later in November, Alper Cugun and myself are running a workshop at the upcoming conference, Bits und Baüme, to play test a variant of the Climate Wedges game, that tries to address these questions, based on more up to date science.

We plan to use information from sources like the IPCC Pathways to Zero scenarios, and also more contemporary literature like the interventions outlined in Drawdown.

Trying this out together

We’re looking for playtesters who are free one evening after work in the first week in November, and while we havea venue if we have more than 10 people coming, we’ll need a larger venue, so we’re actively looking for a venue to play test this at.

Who is we?

Me and Alper are organising this. I’m a user researcher and technical consultant with an interest in climate change, and Alper is a game designer as well as being a dab hand at programming.

We want to run to test the workshop format before the conference, ideally in first week in November.

If this sounds interesting, please get in touch with me – my contact page shows the best ways to reach me.


The full blurb for the conference

Below is the blurb we used, and you can see the session in the conference programme for Bits Under Baüme.

Tickets for the conference in Berlin are available here.

The Stabilisation Wedges game is an educational game used in classrooms, universities and business seminars since 2007, to aid discussion about what kind of measures are available now with existing technology, to stop the growth of annual global CO2 emissions each year.

Players work in teams to put together a portfolio of different policy decisions, and different technologies, which when combined to form a ‘wedge’ to stabilise the year on year growth in emissions, so emissions stay level each year.

However, in 2015, at the COP21 conference, almost every country on Earth agreed to a resolution to limit global warming to two degrees celsius. To make this possible, we now need to reduce emissions to zero by 2100, with most of these reductions delivered by 2050.

In this session, we’ll be testing a prototype of a ‘Beyond Wedges’, an educational game based on the ‘wedges’ approach., where players work in teams to create a similar portfolio of measures, but updated with information from IPCC scenarios and publications like the recently published sources like Drawdown (http://drawdown.com/).

The aim of the game to act as a discussion tool, to better understand what getting zero carbon emissions would look like.

The aim of this workshop is to gain feedback about the prototype – how ‘playable’ it is, how well it helps players have an informed discussion about the changes ahead of us, and where possible incorporate the latest science from specialists with domain expertise – there may be ‘wedges‘ available that we haven’t considered which are worth incorporating into future versions of the game.

This feedback will go into refining the game, which we intend make freely available under similar terms as the original climate wedges game (essentially free to use in educational contexts), and to help with building an online version of the game.

A question about using docker to make contributing to OSS projects easier

I started writing this in a IRC channel earlier today, but I figured it might be useful share the question and the answer here, to capture it for others. Yes it is a bit lazyweb, but I can’t be the only one doing this, and I’ll share the answer here:

I’m working on a django project, and I’m interested in making a dockerfile so people who want to contribute, but don’t use pip or pipenv regularly, but have used docker before can contribute.

I use circle CI for CI, and I use their docker files for running tests on the project. Is it common/recommended to use the same for easy dev environments?


A mail I sent to other climate curious tech folks at an event in Factory Berlin

Earlier this week, I went to an event run at Factory Berlin, about the use of data journalism in policy changes for social impact.
I got talking about Climate Action tech with some people there, and as we don’t have a formal regular newsletter we’d manage with something like Mailchimp, I wrote this email, then sent it along to the people who gave me their email address.
In case it’s useful to anyone else, I’ve added it here too.

Hi folks,

Thanks for signing up for this one off email, and listening to me ramble somewhat incoherently earlier at the Change The Story, Change The World: Data-Driven Social Impact event at Factory Berlin.

I said I’d share a few links afterwards for those interested in the intersection between tech and climate, and a few places to look to satisfy your curiosity.

I’ll be deleting the form and data in it at the end of this month, but you’re very welcome to get in touch, by replying to this email or DMing me on twitter – I’m @mrchrisadams.
http://climateaction.tech/This is the group I joined earlier this year. They’ve been going for about two years, and are comprised mainly of employees in tech companies, trying to bring about action inside companies to adopt more climate friendly policies.  These two posts give some useful background:


Among other things, they run an accelerator where employees in companies can find other like minded people in other places, and receive mentorship from specialists or people in leadership roles in other companies (i.e  previous mentors have included the director of sustainability at Facebook and Salesforce, for example.)

You can see an example  of some work that Mapbox (a mapping company who are used in loads of other products) , and Wikimedia Foundation (the folks behind Wikipedia)


So far, most of their efforts have been working directly with tech companies in the US, but they’re starting to do more public engagement stuff now, to find more people interested in doing something about climate change. We’re looking for people to get involved in both public comms, and maaaybe even replicating the accelerator elsewhere. Please get in touch if this sounds interesting to you.

A whole remote conference about sustainability and climate change

You don’t need to travel, and there’s at least two years-worth of content.


Bits and Bäume

A conference in Berlin, specifically about tech and climate change:
http://bits-und-baeume.org/Design for Sustainability
Probably the most complete book out there right now for relating tech to sustainability, from Tim Frick:

Some talks I’ve done about climate and tech, and what steps we have available to us

Two recorded talks:

Some work I’ve been doing to work out how much of the web runs on renewable power (it links to the jupyter note book I use to show my workings)

A little more about the the deep, underlying reasons as someone in tech you might care about climate change

If you want more…
Niklas Jordan, a climate-focused UX designer recently started a newsletter for more stuff along these lines:

Wow, if you got this far, have a gold star!

Powering small to medium size tech companies on renewable power

I’ve been thinking about the steps you can take to green the tech sector, and the more I think about it, the more I think the biggest step for most web/SaaS companies, is likely to be how they power their infrastructure, if it isn’t related to employee transport.

This is confirmed somewhat by the CSR reports by various companies mentioned in this fantastic new resource, climateActTech:

A quick way to estimate what your company’s carbon footprint might be is to find a peer who has a similar business model. At most “cloud based” technology companies the majority of the carbon footprint comes from data center energy use. At other companies it might be from fabrication and manufacturing processes, company travel or directly from other company business interests. Here are a few examples.

“Cloud Heavy” Companies

Manufacturing Companies

Consulting Companies

Knowing where the bulk of your carbon pollution comes from will help you achieve the greatest gains by directing your efforts appropriately.

The thing is, if you’re a large company like Google and Apple it’s possible to do some power purchase agreement (PPA) to effectively power your infrastructure with renewabbles, but as companies get smaller, the options (short of using Google’s own infra, for example) become more restricted too.

So, this piece in Green Biz caught my interest, as it’s the first time I’ve read about smaller companies clubbing together to do a ‘virtual PPA’ :

With FERC’s blessing, Apple and others can participate in so-called “physical” PPAs, where the contract holder actually takes ownership of the energy generated by a project and its sustainability certificates. For those without FERC clearance, a “virtual” PPA offers a chance to buy clean energy from a project at a long-term fixed price without technically being the owner of the power in play.

“Most deals, aggregated or not, are going to be virtual,” Kelly said.

How those agreements are divvied up in an aggregated deal could vary.

One model is to have each company sign its own power purchase agreement — the predominant model to date in the deals that Kelly has seen. An alternative could be an “anchor tenant model,” Kelly said, where one company signs a PPA and others agree to individual contract terms.

In the latter scenario, however, the anchor tenant would become as a middle man that must be comfortable with other participants’ credit ratings.

“It’s kind of putting its own balance sheet out there,” Kelly said.

When you have organisations like Lumenaza offering ‘virtual power stations’ by aggregrating supply from loads of micro scale power generators, and I’m now wondering how small these PPAs can realistically get.

Also, given how Feed In Tariffs in Europe are dwindling over the next two years, it feels like there will be a lot of micro scale generators looking around for new purchasers of power, to keep their plants financially sustainable.

If there are companies who are looking for green power, and providers who will increasingly be looking for new purchasers of power, surely this service must exist already, right?




The pleasing mapping between Sam Ladners three states and Myddletons’ three types of research

I’m trying to use this blog more, and really on twitter less as an outboard brain. So over the next week or so, I’ll experiment with blogging stuff I’d typically tweet, then link to it.

I came across a nice mapping between two people I find interested and the mental models they present for thinking about user research. The first is Will Myddleton, and the second is Sam Ladner, who I found out about through a Jools, who I met through the Researchops Workshops in May.

Myddleton’s three kinds of user research

I really recommend reading the whole post, but these early paras give a good summary background:

Over the last two years I’ve stumbled into a useful model for talking about this relationship with researchers and their teams. The model helps them understand what to expect from each other, recognise and support each others’ strengths, and work together to make better products.

The model? There are three types of user research product teams should care about:

  1. Testing things the team have built
  2. Working out what the team should build next
  3. Understanding potential users and their lives

Not revolutionary. Not innovative. Just helpful in doing the trickier parts of my job.

Sam Ladner’s take

Sam has a nice model that says similar things:

Too often, researchers take their cue from the scientific method. While this method undoubtedly changed the world and our knowledge of it, it is antithetical to the creative needs of a well-rounded researcher. It is especially problematic for design research, which requires creative solutions to existing problems.

Design researchers should embrace less structure and more openness at the early stages of product design, and rigor and structure in the mature stages of product sales. As sales drop off and the product loses its natural match to the culture, design researchers should once again embrace openness in their research approaches.

Bonus association – Emma Boulton’s research funnel

This isn’t a million miles away from the research funnel that Emma Boulton put forward a while back. I couldn’t find a snappy quote but her post gives a good example of using the activites from the difference phases together.