Open Source Ventilator Project

The University of Florida Health Open Source Ventilator (Photo: University of Florida)

The Center for Safety, Simulation and Advanced Learning Technologies at the University of Florida Health has developed open-source, open architecture ventilator engineering design specifications to address a predicted ventilator shortage worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It will also host open source contributions.

The above link directs people to a website that provides sufficient information to construct such a ventilator, although attention is also focused on the disclaimer at the bottom of the page.

Other news sources have also provided more readable information on the project.

It is claimed that hardware for the project is readily available at hardware stores. Parts were purchased at Home Depot. There are claims that the ventilator can be produced with $300 in parts, in addition to labour. I note that the controller is an Arduino based unit. The Arduino is a very simple controller board, that I have used in my teaching from 2008 – 2016.

If you (or someone you know) would like to work on this or similar health projects, please contact me at:

MIT Emergency Ventilator Project

E-Vent, a team of volunteers, scientists, physicians and computer scientists at MIT revived a 10-year-old ventilator project. The result is an affordable and easily replicable, but primitive, ventilator design. The total parts cost is $400 to $500, . The E-Vent team plans to share their design online on their website so that manufacturers and companies can recreate the lifesaving device for hospitals around the world.

The device’s main part already exists in most American hospital inventories: an Ambu resuscitation bag. Usually, these are manually operated by emergency technicians or medical professionals to keep a patient breathing until they are hooked up to a ventilator. The E-Vent team adapted the Ambu bags by attaching it to an automated mechanism that replicates a human. This project appears to be more expensive, and less functional than the University of Florida project.

Construction: 2020 Season

The building/ construction season is starting at Cliff Cottage today, 2020-04-01. Today, equipment will be positioned. Tomorrow, 2020-04-02, if all goes well, the utility trailer will be taken out to purchase building supplies, so that these do not become a bottleneck. This date is chosen because it is the first day after we come out of quarantine.

This building activity means there will be less time to write weblog posts. Unless something changes, posts will be published only on the first day of each month, from April (this post) to September 2020.

The weblog season will begin again 2020-10-01, with a post that has already been written, titled Hipster. Other posts about computing equipment have also been written.


Mathematicians and engineers at MIT have developed a mathematical model that predicts knot stability. Key properties, include the number of crossings involved and the rope segments’ direction of twist as the knot is tightened, help compare the strength of different knots.

A Granny knot, famous for slipping (above), and a Reef knot (below). The Reef knot is at least 4 000 years old. Its name dates from at least 1794 and originates from its common use to reef sails. (Artwork: PAR on wikimedia)

With the new model any two knots – even those that are almost identical – can be compared and the model will determine which one is better.

Over centuries people have empirically known which knots are better for which purposes. The model explains why.

Researchers were able to identify characteristics that determine a knot’s stability (counting rules). A knot is stronger if it has more strand crossings and changes in the direction of rotation from one strand segment to another (twist fluctuations). If a fiber segment is rotated to the left at one crossing and to the right at a neighbouring crossing, twist fluctuations and opposing friction will occur as the knot is tightened. These add stability to the knot. If segments are rotated in the same direction at two neighbouring crossing, there is no twist fluctuation. The strand is more likely to rotate, slip, and produce a weaker knot.

Counting rules explain why a reef knot is stronger than a granny knot: The reef knot has a higher number of twist fluctuations, making it a more stable configuration.

For further information, please see the source article.


Two Tripp Trapp chairs: One 30 years old (left) and another that is new (right).
The owner’s name proudly engraved on the back of the new chair.

One of the great appeals of the Tripp Trapp chair is its use of wood, which offers its own warmth and aesthetics. So much better than plastic! On Thursday, 2019-06-13, we assembled our third – and probably last – Tripp Trapp chair. The other two chairs were purchased when our children were about six months old, in 1984 and 1989 respectively. They are now about 35 and 30 years old.

This iconic adjustable wooden chair for children was developed by a local (Norwegian) furniture designer in 1972 for a local (Norwegian) furniture manufacturer. When we bought the first chair, we were living in the same county (Møre og Romsdal) where the chair was made. Both the first two chairs were made by Norwegian workers in Norway. By purchasing the chairs, we felt we were supporting the local economy.

Fitting a globalized world, the company producing the chair is now owned by a Belgium investment company, itself fully owned by a South Korean investment company. The new chair was made in Romania. Today, I feel I am helping a foreign billionaire increase his wealth.

The name Tripp Trapp is derived from the game tripp-trapp-tresko (Norwegian) = Tic-tac-toe (American English) = noughts and crosses (British English).

Furniture design inspires myths. In the case of Tripp Trapp, it is that Peter Opsvik (1939 – ), the designer, couldn’t find a chair that could position his son at table height. Tripp Trapp was Opsvik’s response to that situation.

Years ago, we visited Opsvik’s Cylindra workshop in Sykkylven, to see his exhibition of sculptural furniture. They lacked the functionality of the Tripp Trapp, and seemed pretentious. I was not impressed. In fact, none of Opsvik’s other designs appeal to me.

The Furniture Museum, in the same village, Sykkylven, was much more interesting, for it put into perspective how and why the furniture industry developed. Two words explain it all: poverty and necessity.

The furniture manufacturer, Stokke AS started as Møller & Stokke, a partnership, in 1932 by Georg Stokke and Bjarne Møller. It was located near Ålesund, which became the locus of the Norwegian furniture industry. In 1944, it was converted to an aksjeselskap (AS) = limited liability company. Bjarne Møller sold his interest in the company in 1955, and the company changed its name to Stokke Fabrikker AS = Stokke Factories Ltd. Since 2014, the company has been owned by NXMH, an investment company based in Belgium, fully owned by NXC in South Korea. NXC is the largest shareholder in NEXON Corporation, a Korean video game publisher.

Tripp Trapp did not sell well in the beginning, but a news segment on Norwegian television in 1974 sparked interest. By 2016 Tripp Trapp had sold more than 10 million chairs.

The Norwegian Wikipedia article on the chair reports that it has been the subject of over 500 cases where other companies have made almost exact copies of the Tripp Trapp chair. One hundred and thirty of these cases have been tried in court, with Stokke winning most cases. The Supreme Court in Norway, along with other courts in Denmark and Germany, have stated that the Tripp Trapp design is an intellectual property. This means that royalties will have to be paid on the chair for the life of the designer, plus 70 years. Even if Opsvik died tomorrow, it means that this chair design will remain out of the public domain, until 2090.

Tripp Trapp has a distinctive design that is characterized by two boards (a seat and footrest) that can be placed at different heights so that the child can sit on the chair at the correct height to the table with feet firmly planted on the lower board. Since both boards are adjustable not only in height, but also depth, the chair can be adjusted to accommodate the child as s/he grows. The chair has a height of 790 mm, occupies a depth of 490 mm and has a width of 460 mm. It will support an adult weighing up to 110 kg.

All our Tripp Trapp chairs have been made from solid as well as laminated beech components. The chair is also available in natural and painted beech in numerous colour combinations, as well as in ash and oak. This last chair also had a name, Trish. engraved on its back.

The rationale behind purchasing this chair is that a dining room/ kitchen table has a fixed height, so that it is the chair that has to be adjustable. The reason the table is fixed, is that multiple people have to sit around it. In other circumstances, a table/ desk/ working surface just has to accommodate a single person. In this situation, the sitting height of the chair can be adjusted so that the user can have her/his feet comfortably on the floor. Then, a height-adjustable, sit-stand work surfaces can easily adjusted to accommodate user anatomy – elbow height especially – allowing for varied work postures, when sitting or standing.

In 2013, together with Danish furniture manufacturer Evomove, Opsvik launched a new chair he claims is described by consumers and test panels as the world’s best high chair, Nomi. Unfortunately, I am not sure that this chair is suitable for an adult. It is totally unappealing, regardless of its ergonomic and other claims.

The Nomi chair just doesn’t seem appropriate for an adult. The massive amount of plastic used in its construction, gives a vastly different aesthetic, compared to the Tripp Trapp chair. (Photo: Evomove)

At a price of almost NOK 1 900, (USD 200) in beech/ ash or NOK 2 100 in oak, for the basic model, the Tripp Trapp chair is not cheap. However, used chairs abound. There are currently 48 of them on offer in Trøndelag county on the most popular website, at an average price somewhere around NOK 500.

The most basic model of the Nomi chair is even more expensive at NOK 2 200. Its price is an outrageous USD 380 at Modern Natural Baby in Ferndale, Michigan. I could not find any Nomi chairs for sale, used.

A Timeline

We ordered the Tripp Trapp chair on 2019-06-04 at 16:45. This is acknowledged by Stokke in a separate email.

A message arrived saying that the chair had been sent, complete with engraving on 2019-05-05 at 17:20 (24 hours 35 minutes later). Oddly, Stokke was using UPS to send a parcel in Norway. This is the first time that I have ever had something from Norway sent by UPS.

A request for an evaluation of our purchasing experience arrived on the same date at 21:15 (3 hours 55 minutes later). What sort or evaluation are these people expecting? We had not yet received the product.

A reminder for this evaluation arrived on 2019-06-07 at 09:12 ( 35 hours 57 minutes later). Again, what are these people expecting? We still had not yet received the product.

An e-mail arrived saying that UPS has attempted to deliver the product on 2019-06-12 at 08:50 ( 6 days 15 hours 30 minutes after being sent). It is a very interesting email, since Trish was on scaffolding on our house painting, at this very moment, and there was no sign of any delivery vehicle anywhere.

Despite both Stokke and Bring as well as the Norwegian Post Office registering our telephone number and address to send out an SMS, no SMS or email was received to say the chair is ready to be picked up at our local postal pick-up point. Why did you ask for this information if you are not going to use it?

The chair was picked up at Co-op Extra in Straumen on 2019-06-12 at about 19:00.

A notice was received by snail mail saying that the chair could be picked up. This was delivered 2019-06-13 at about 9:00.

The chair was assembled 2019-06-13 at about 12:00. The instructions provided were adequate. Immediately after this, the chair was in use.

Bespoke Furniture

New, inexpensive Ikea Poäng chairs and footstools, that have not been able to create sustainable employment opportunities for anyone living locally, or anyone I know, personally.

Back in 1978, newly wed Patricia and Brock wanted to buy furniture for their New Westminster apartment. Despite Ikea opening its first store in Canada in 1976 in nearby Richmond, we decided not to buy two arm chairs and a three-seater sofa there or from any of the other assortment of furniture palaces, emporiums or warehouses to be found in Greater Vancouver. Instead, we found a small, custom furniture workshop on Hastings Street, in Vancouver, and a man who could make furniture to order, or at least to his fairly unique, minimalist design. The result was no more expensive than the equivalent to be found at Ikea.

In 2019, not so young Patricia and Brock are contemplating acquiring replacement furniture for their living room. They have only had their current sofa set for about eleven years, but it is showing its age. The set was about twenty years old, when it was purchased used for about 10% of its new price. We never actually owned new living room chairs or sofas in Norway, until May 2019, when on impulse we purchased two Poäng chairs, from Ikea in Trondheim. These chairs cost about NOK 800 (USD 93) each, while the footstools cost about NOK 500 (USD 58) each. Further information about the Poäng can be found here.

Our standard living room chair purchase is a used high-backed Siesta chair, and we would pay about NOK 500 for each of them. This chair was designed by Ingmar Relling in 1965. These are becoming harder to find, at least used, and people are wanting to sell them not so much as inexpensive seating, but as examples of exclusive mid twentieth century Scandinavian furniture. Of the four we have purchased in the past, two have been given away to people who had a pressing and immediate need for furniture, while the other two have been relocated to another room in our house. The new price of our version of Siesta chairs is NOK 14 900 (USD 1 700) each. Even the footstool costs NOK 6 250 (USD 700). See here.

One of the advantages of living in a well regulated society, is the ample availability of statistics. There is a population register that records the official addresses of everyone in the country. SSB (Statistisk sentralbyrå = Statistics Norway) is able to report that the population of Inderøy was 6 804 at the beginning of 2019. Incomes and deductible expenses are public knowledge, as are many other statistics about people and their spending habits.

From the collected statistical information and other data, SIFO (Statens Institutt for Forbruksforskning = State Institute for Consumer Research) annually constructs a reference budget, which uses empirical data to show how families spend their income. A standard family consisting of 4 people spends NOK 620 each month on furniture. Almost the entire furniture budget for a year would be needed to buy a single Siesta footstool. It takes almost three years of this family’s furniture budget to buy a single Siesta chair with footstool. In other words, this type of product is beyond the economic capacity of most families, at least if it is to be purchased new.

If we combine this information with the reference budget, showing spending on furniture at NOK 155 per person per month, it means that the municipal population is spending about NOK 1 054 620 a month, or slightly over NOK 12 million a year. This is not a huge amount, and probably explains why there are no furniture stores in Inderøy.

Both the Siesta and the Poäng chairs use laminated wood as the foundation of their design. These chairs are light weight, flexible and springy, and extremely comfortable. I suspect the Poäng chair is less robust than the Siesta chair. Peter Opsvik’s Tripp Trapp children’s chair is yet another example of one using laminated wood. While I would enjoy experimenting with laminated wood in my workshop, it requires more sophisticated equipment than I have at the moment, and time to experiment, at least initially. This is not quite the time, as other higher priority projects require my attention.

Instead, I will find the time in 2020 to make a simple, three seater sofa designed specifically to accommodate people who have short upper legs. Most contemporary sofas have an excessive seating depth, that make it uncomfortable for people with short upper legs to sit. In addition, it will also be designed to fit people with short lower legs. This will be done by making the height at front edge of the cushion lower. The budget for the three-seater sofa is NOK 4 000 (USD 465).

Other adjustments may also be necessary, so my first priority is to make an plywood seating mule, where all seating dimensions can be adjusted to find the most comfortable and appropriate seating for any given person. The budget for the seating mule is NOK 1 000 (USD 116).

An aside: My suspicion is that sofas are not designed for not so much for sitting, as for snoozing, and that this is the reason why the seating depth has increased.

Opinion 1. There is no reason why residents of Macomb, Michigan or Prince Rupert, British Columbia or Charlottenberg, Sweden or anywhere else should have to rely on (large) corporations to provide themselves and their families with furniture.

Opinion 2. There is no reason why underemployed residents anywhere should have to remain underemployed, when such a large percentage of their nearby population are regularly buying furniture, and enriching large corporations, with head offices far away, such as in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania (Ikea’s USA headquarters), Burlington, Ontario (Ikea’s Canada headquarters), Delft, Netherlands (Ikea’s World headquarters).

Ikea is a franchised brand and the owner of the brand is different from its operators, so there are several head officices. The Ikea brand name is owned by the company Inter Ikea Group, they are the franchisor of the Ikea concept and is located in Delft in The Netherlands. The various Ikea stores are operated by different retailers. Ingka Group operates about 330 of the 420 stores. It is located in Leiden in The Netherlands.

Opinion 3. To retain a larger proportion of income in a local community, that would otherwise go to is to large corporations, one can start a furniture workshop with separate facilities for wood and textile work, train people in the skills needed to make furniture for themselves and/or for others, and suitable furniture designs. It should also be a place where furniture can be refurbished.

Wicked Problems

The California water crisis is an emblematic wicked problem. My personal awareness of the problem began in the 1950s, with the North American Water and Power Alliance proposing to divert British Columbia water to California. For many, awareness came with Chinatown, Roman Polanski’s 1974 neo-noir film. Other people were much more directly affected – having to live their daily lives in a drought-ridden California, or becoming environmental refugees.

For passionate insight rather than raw emotion, the standard work is Marc Reisner’s (1948-2000) , Cadillac Desert, 1986. With the book being over 30 years old, B. Lynn Ingram and Frances Malamud-Roam have written a worthy follow-up, The West Without Water, 2013.

Two proposals for the massive transport of water from Canada to USA. (Illustration: Thomas Kierans, 2005)

Today’s weblog post is not about the California water crisis, as gruesome as it is for some, and could be for many more. It is about wicked problems. The essence of a wicked problem is that it is so complex, that it is impossible to understand all its implications. Any resolution will require a bespoke solution, which will only partially resolve disputes.

Wicked is a term used in operations research. Some practitioners  infrequently or never apply it, while others use it more extensively. Regardless, many hold it with reverence. Working with these ultimate problems has the potential to elevate or destroy one’s professional reputation. More importantly, resolution of a wicked problem may positively affect the lives of millions, in some cases – such as world poverty, billions of people.

Operations research as a subject area is, itself, often misunderstood. Part of the problem is that practitioners value precision to such a degree that they find it difficult to define words. Sometimes, one suspects, their motivation is to discourage or to impress  readers, rather than to clarify. In one common definition, the words advanced analytical methods appear. While most people may have a basic understanding of what method means, their understanding may be fuzzier when it comes to understanding the term analytical. Adding advanced onto that, just leaves people dumbfounded. A simpler approach is to define operations research as: the process of designing  solutions to complex problems.

Wicked problems arise when operations researchers feel out of their comfort zone, which is a very numerical place. Wicked problems usually involve several groups of people, stakeholders, who see a problem from many different, and sometimes opposing, perspectives. Challenges with wicked problems often begin with finding a suitable definition of a problem and end with finding a suitable stopping point for proposed solutions. By then other related problems are revealed or created of  because of complex interdependencies.

The term, wicked problem, originated with Horst Rittel (1930-1990) but was popularized by C. West Churchman (1913-2004), while both of them along with Melvin Webber (1920-2006) worked at The University of California, Berkeley. Churchman wanted operations research to take moral responsibility  “to inform the manager in what respect our ‘solutions’ have failed to tame his wicked problems” ( Churchman, C. West (December 1967). “Wicked Problems” Management Science  14 (4).) Tame problems are so simple, that they can be resolved using basic mathematical and other computational tools.

Rittel and Webber specified ten characteristics of wicked problems (Rittel, Horst W. J.; Webber, Melvin M. (1973). “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning” Policy Sciences. 4: 155–169)

  1. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem.
  2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule.
  3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but better or worse.
  4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
  5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a “one-shot operation”; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial and error, every attempt counts significantly.
  6. Wicked problems do not have an enumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan.
  7. Every wicked problem is essentially unique.
  8. Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem.
  9. The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. The choice of explanation determines the nature of the problem’s resolution.
  10. The social planner has no right to be wrong (i.e., planners are liable for the consequences of the actions they generate).

Over thirty years later, Jeffrey Conklin (?-) generalized the concept (Conklin, Jeffrey (2006). Dialogue mapping : building shared understanding of wicked problems. Chichester, England: Wiley):

  1. The problem is not understood until after the formulation of a solution.
  2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule.
  3. Solutions to wicked problems are not right or wrong.
  4. Every wicked problem is essentially novel and unique.
  5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a ‘one shot operation.’
  6. Wicked problems have no given alternative solutions.

A wicked problem is so interconnected with other problems that one can’t intervene somewhere without impacting something else. It involves incomplete or contradictory knowledge, a large number of people and opinions, a large economic burden either to live with it or to resolve it.


Nancy Roberts (1943?-) identified three strategies to cope with wicked problems. See: Roberts, N. C. (2000). “Wicked Problems and Network Approaches to Resolution”. International Public Management Review. 1 (1)

Authoritative. These strategies limit problem-solving to an elite group of stakeholders, typically including experts and those with financial or political weight. This reduces problem complexity, as many competing points of view are eliminated at the start. The disadvantage is that authorities and experts charged with solving the problem may not have an appreciation of all the perspectives needed to tackle the problem.

Competitive. These strategies attempt to solve wicked problems by pitting opposing points of view against each other, requiring parties that hold these views to come up with their preferred solutions. The advantage of this approach is that different solutions can be weighed up against each other and the best one chosen. The disadvantage is that this adversarial approach creates a confrontational environment in which knowledge sharing is discouraged. Consequently, the parties involved may not have an incentive to come up with their best possible solution.

Collaborative. These strategies aim to engage all stakeholders in order to find the best possible solution for all stakeholders. Typically these approaches involve meetings in which issues and ideas are discussed and a common, agreed approach is formulated.

Before Roberts, the collaborative approach was the only one acknowledged, at least in public.


On the surface, wicked problems have a simple answer, and its name is IBIS, Issue-Based Information Systems.  What distinguishes IBIS from other solutions, is that it views design as argumentation.  That is, the design process requires people to reflect on the problem, deliberate, and to argue for and against different perspectives. It is also instrumental. Yes, another big word, which in this case refers to something being goal oriented. (Hulme, Mike (2009). Why We Disagree about Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity. Cambridge University Press.)

Computer-based versions of IBIS are  available in Windows (up to version 8), Mac and Linux variants,   at: . While IBIS was conceived in 1968, it had to await for appropriate technology to become an effective tool. Using hypertext data-structures, the latest incarnation was  implemented by Douglas E. Noble (?-).

Social Media

Much social media discussion involves wicked problems, but without the poster understanding that they are dealing with such a comprehensive issue. Instead, much of the discussion may involve a very specific personal challenge, deliberately isolated from its context. From there responses are solicited, ranging from a like to a supportive comment. Yet, the response may be anything but positive. While the first poster’s position may be attacked, not infrequently there will personal attacks as well.

It is here that social media fails. It is very effective at allowing people to trumpet out problems, but does nothing to help people manage or resolve them. Where is the social media IBIS that will allow social media users to put their problems into perspective?

Social media users facing wicked problems need help to argue for their perspectives. This is very different from a vitriolic attack. They need help to structure a design problem, and to participate with others in a design solution, a process where they can reflect on that problem, deliberate and to argue for and against different perspectives, and come up with a solution that is better than the current situation.

Coming sooner or later: Russell L. Ackoff on Social Messes.

Construction Technology

A 50 m2 office hotel in Copenhagen’s Nordhavn made with a 3D printer, 8m x 8m x 6m (Illustration: 3D Printhuset)

When I look at construction today (2018-07-03), fifty two years to the week after completing high school in 1966, and beginning work as a construction labourer at that very same location, Lester Pearson Senior Secondary School, the work looks surprisingly similar and the tools surprisingly familiar. Someone working in 1968 would have no problem working in 2018.

Pneumatic nailers have been in use since the 1950s, and can save a lot of time. They also give a superior join. Yet, this week, on a site some hundred meters from our residence, two builders were using conventional hammers to construct a cabin. The work was progressing slowly.

One of the main reasons I prefer to build, rather than to hire, is that too many builders are living in the past. Fortunately, I actually enjoy building construction. Yes, it can be tiring work. But it means that I never have to work out at a gym. Yes, it is necessary to take precautions to avoid physical injury, and to use personal protective clothing. Yes, at the end of the day, much of the work will be invisible, but that  isn’t too different from my previous work as a teacher.

Many of my first jobs involved working with wood. While still attending junior secondary school, I built a sabot sailboat out of two sheets of 1/4″ (6mm) plywood. Later, I worked clean-up on the weekends at Brownlee Industries, in Surrey. They processed alder into lumber and made glue-laminate products from it. Other summer jobs were with Bel-Par Industries in Surrey, where I worked as a cabinet-maker’s assistant.  This was undoubtedly the job in Canada that suited my personality best.

Somewhat later, I also working for Habitat Industries on Annacis Island, Delta. It was a pre-fabricated housing factory that has had other names, both before and since. It was named after the first United Nations Conference on Human Settlements, held in Vancouver in 1976. John Reagan’s designs were anything but modular boxes. He designed octangular, split level and mineshaft buildings. They involved post and beam as well as platform framing. Here, I worked in the factory, not just framing, but other tasks such as electrical and plumbing installation, as well as in the office, mostly related to scheduling and project planning.

Pre-fabrication saved on build time and labour costs by moving much of the work to a climate-controlled environment. Part of the challenge is that these parts have to be transported, which means that the building has to be sub-divided into transportable units, with a maximum length, height and width. Modules are not always the solution. One compromise is to use pre-cut materials for flooring and roofs, but to make and transport walls in sections. Modules can work for bathrooms, less so for kitchens.

In February 2012, I watched an inspiring TED Talk, Contour Crafting – Automated Construction, with Behrokh Khoshnevis at TEDxOjai. After this, I expected there to be a surge of interest 3D-printing of houses. I am still waiting, but understand progress has been made by Khoshvevis in China. Not so much on the North American continent or in Europe.

AMT-SPECAVIA of Yaroslavl, Russia started serial production of construction printers in 2015. Currently, seven models are available ranging from a small format for the printing of small architectural forms, to a much larger scale, that allows printing of buildings up to 3 stories high. A construction printer was delivered to 3DPrinthuset, in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2017. This 8m x 8m x 6m printer was used to construct a 50 m2 office-hotel.

This is referred to as a Building on Demand (BOD) project. Only its walls and part of its foundation are printed. The rest of the construction is traditional. A time-lapse video of the project is also available.

I don’t think I will have an opportunity to build and live in my own 3-D printed house. However, I am encouraging my children to consider the potential this technology offers. I would enjoy helping them.


The new Nuno R1 autonomous delivery vehicle has arrived, and if all goes well, it will soon be making grocery deliveries from Kroger to a house near you. Not near me, unfortunately, as the distance to my closest Kroger store is measured in thousands of kilometers.

Nuro R1 Autonomous Delivery Vehicle (Photo: Nuro, 2018)

While the Nuro may have OK styling, its design is not great. Take the hinged (gull-wing?) door openings. They are much wider and thus heavier than necessary to provide full access to the storage areas. There is no reason for these doors to open as widely as the do. The vehicle rakes, unnecessarily, front and back. Why isn’t this area being used to house navigational equipment, instead of the centre of the vehicle, which could be designed to include more storage space?

In contrast, here is my own attempt at a delivery vehicle design that does address some of these issues, although the purpose of this vehicle is transport of building materials, rather than groceries. Even the colour is an improvement on dull beige-brown.

Autonomous delivery vehicle for construction materials, with vehicular control mechanisms at body ends. Battery pack is located under floor.

There are too many stylists at work, masquerading as designers. In the 1950s,  stylists knew they were stylists.

1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Club Hardtop at weekly Garden Grove, California car show 2004-05-14. (Photo: Morven CC-BY-SA-3.0)

Nineteen Fifty Seven represented a high point for American car styling, but not for car design. This is seen particularly in low-end brands, such as Chevrolet, Ford and Plymouth. In contrast,  facelifted 1958 models are regarded with less esteem, although not quite as low as the 1959 models.

The 1957 Fords were all about styling, one that dramatically changed passenger car appearance the most since 1949. There were 20 different models, on two separate wheelbases. Body styles included two- and four-door sedans, hardtops, wagons, a convertible, a retractable hardtop and a sedan/pickup. These were all available in more colors and two-tone combinations than ever before. There were six engine options, five of them V-8s.

The challenge with making so many different products is that there is no place for design. I will not be buying a 1957 Ford, or any other heritage car. They are just too impractical – too low, too long, too extreme in styling language.

There is a similar situation in the world of fashion. Fortunately, in my world many of my outer clothes, especially shirts and socks, are bespoke. Material is selected specifically for each garment, sleeve length is cut perfectly, each shirt has two pockets, buttons are placed where I want them. Not every man, has a wife who has such abilities and interests. Without being too disparaging, I would say that I have one shirt design, that is then styled to meet specific requirements in each garment.

There may be a few more variations on designs for chinos and jeans, but most of these differ only in terms of their styling. I have learned to live with a particular off the rack style of chinos. They come in more or less standard design, with components that can be traced back to the 19th century. The original watch pocket has been repurposed many times. A Levi-Straus blog comments about many of these same components in jeans:

Smart-home Abuse

Smart-home technology has become a new arena for abusers to harass their victims. It is a new form of domestic guerrilla warfare. Abusers use smartphone apps connected to internet-enabled devices to remotely control everyday objects in the victim’s residence. Some modes of operation are passive, simply allowing the abuser to watch and/or listen. Other modes display power, and are intended to invoke fear. Both forms are a crime against the victim, and cannot be tolerated.

The abuser may or may not be resident, or in or out of an ongoing relationship with the victim. It is particularly in situations where the abuser and the victim are living together, that smart-home devices can be problematic, and difficult to handle. This post is a warning to potential victims, that smart-home devices may not be as innocent as they look.

Google Home, with an Android smartphone, one of a growing number of smart-home devices (Photo: Bence Boros on Unsplash)

Devices acquired by an abuser, and installed in a victim’s residence, often remain controlled by the abuser, even after a relationship has ended. Smart-home devices are weapons of choice for many abusers. There is often asymmetrical insight into these devices in a relationship. Victims typically lack the technological skills necessary to set up, and modify smart-home devices. This asymmetry, gives power to the abuser. Devices that can be used include cameras. loudspeakers, lights, remotely operated doors and thermostats.

Many smart-home devices are inexpensive and easy to install, as long as one knows what one is doing. Typically, only one person in a relationship – often a male – installs and programs, even operates, the technology. This person has an overview of the technology that the other person in the relationship lacks. The abuser may have exclusive knowledge of user names and passwords, which gives that person the power to compromise the other person in the relationship, typically a woman. For example, the abuser may have exclusive use of a controlling app on his telephone.

Domestic abuse is not uncommon. In a 2010 CDC report, one in three women and one in four men have been victims of physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner. See:

What can be done?

First, both partners should work together and decide which smart-home devices should be installed. If there is no agreement, then it can’t be installed. Once installed, both partners must then have any apps used to control the devices.

Second, all smart-home device installations must be fully documented, and accessible to both partners in the relationship. Part of that documentation includes full discloser as to device names and passwords. However, it should also include wiring and other diagrams.

Third, as part of a legal written agreement between (former) partners, the partner leaving the residence must agree to remove all user names, passwords and other data associated with smart-home devices from all of his devices, including but not limited to phones, computers and tablets.

Fourth, any unusual device behaviour must be assumed to be enemy action, and both parties must agree that it be treated that way. Potential abusive behaviour includes: changing thermostats to uncomfortably high or low temperatures; playing music when the victim is sleeping; flashing lights at inappropriate times or preventing lights to turn on when they are required; posting photos/ videos/ sound recordings on social media, taken by remote cameras/ microphones; inappropriate door locking behaviour, such as preventing the victim from entering the residence, or allowing anyone free access to the residence, including the abuser.

A word of caution

A major problem arises when a victim removes or deactivates smart-home devices. This can result in the victim feeling inadequate and isolated, but may also result in abuse escalation. In most situations, the abuser will have sufficient control over the situation and devices to know if and when a device has been disabled, which can trigger further violence, physical or emotional.

Any course about smart-home devices should be offered either to women alone, or to couples jointly. Users should be able to understand smart-home device documentation. and be able to disable any devices installed in their residence.

Future courses I offer about smart-home devices will require the participation of both couples in a relationship, or signed note from a female domestic partner for permission to attend. This note must also include an acknowledgement that smart-home devices can be used abusively!

Seeds: Localized Design

How should an environmental product, in this case a hydroponic vertical “farm” housed in a 15 square meter geodesic greenhouse, be “packaged” so that its design can be localized elsewhere? While the initial product design is intended to be used in Inderøy, Norway, there are many other places in the world where this product might be useful. Thus, this is an exercise in designing “localization” into the initial product, rather than adding it later.

The Inderøy Friends of the Earth group is considering making a prototype of a hydroponic vertical “farm” housed and geodesic greenhouse during the autumn of 2018. One of the designs being looking at is by Paul Langdon. It is shown below.

Paul Langdon may have provided drawings for his Vertical Hydroponic Farm. In much of the world they would be worthless, since all of the dimensions are in non-metric units. The terms gallon and GPH = gallons per hour, cause additional problems, because one is not sure if these are referring to American or Imperial gallons. The referenced website that could provide clarification, is no longer operative. The only hint is an American date, month, day followed by year.

As can be seen all of the dimensions in the Langdon design are in non-metric units. This means that anyone using this design, will have to translate those dimensions into metric units, then source equivalent metric components or find alternatives.

Theodor Levitt (1925-2006) Harvard Business School professor, editor of the Harvard Business Review, popularizer of the term globalization, definer of corporate purpose, “Rather than merely making money, it is to create and keep a customer.” The Marketing Imagination, (1983) New York: Free Press.

Yes, this is a globalized world, but despite the efforts of Apple, Ford and Macdonalds the world is surprisingly culturally diverse. In the early 1980s Levitt decided that with lessened cultural differences standard products could be provided throughout the world.

John Heskett in Design: A Short Introduction (2005) Oxford: Oxford UP provides the counter-example of Electrolux, convinced that Europe should be a single market for refrigerator/freezer units, like the USA. “[T]he divergent cultures of Europe intransigently failed to follow the American pattern. In Northern Europe, for example, people shop weekly and need equal freezer and refrigerator space. Southern Europeans still tend to shop daily in small local markets and need smaller units. The British eat more frozen vegetables than elsewhere in the world and need 60 per cent freezer space. Some want the freezer on top, some on the bottom. Electrolux attempted to streamline operations but seven years later the company still produced 120 basic designs with 1,500 variants and had found it necessary to launch new refrigerators designed to appeal to specific market niches.” (p. 32)

While gardeners in Inderøy are accustomed to the local climate, as well as weather variations, it is not possible for anyone to have an overview of the climatic situation for everywhere else in the world. Unlike Levitt, we have to assume that other locations will have other needs. Thus, any localized product outside of the bounds of Scandinavia, will undoubtedly need some form of redesign.

It can be debated where localization should start. For a hydroponic greenhouse, it may actually start with a product description on a website, followed by an assembly, operation and maintenance instruction manual wiki. At a slightly different level, it may have to be implemented in the user interface of the hydroponic control unit.

The localization process starts with language, with the goal of making and keeping customers, or equivalent.  Providing a text translated by Google, will only torment consumers. Jargon, idioms and slang have to be understood so that they can be used or avoided assiduously. Local practices have to be recognized, respected, and reflected. Colours impart cultural nuances. In Scandinavia, yellow text on a blue background, may not have a positive impact everywhere in the region! With four prominent languages in Scandinavia, it is important that packaging messages be consistent. Most Finns can read some Swedish, so that equivalent messages have be conveyed in each language. It not, there will be a breach of trust.

If a product is to have a reach beyond the local or regional, informational materials (if not the product itself) must be designed to target locally.  The initial design must allow for flexible and dynamic layout.

Language verbosity means that information must allow text expansion and contraction in different languages. How much to allow is subject to discussion. Here are comments about this topic in one blog: ” … a Spanish document will be 25%-30% longer than the English source …” (Susana Galilea); “… in Finnish the text will become about 30 % shorter, but the number of characters may grow a bit. When translating from German into Finnish the character count decreases by 10 % and word count by 40 %.” (Heinrich Pesch); “… contrary to popular belief, translations are generally longer than the originals, independently of the language pair.” (Óscar Canales).

Information design should be flexible, so that design elements can be fitted in appropriately. Fixed sizes may lead to text or other design elements appearing cropped or lost in an excessive empty space. They should be positioned relative to each other but without fixed placements or sizes in order to allow them to realign as required for every language.

The choice of font can impact layout, and in turn, readability. Unicode is a computing industry standard for the consistent encoding, representation, and handling of text. It covers most of the world’s writing systems, with 136,755 characters and 139 scripts. It is specified in ISO/IEC 10646, which includes code charts for visual reference, an encoding method and set of standard character encodings, reference data files, character properties, rules for normalization, decomposition, collation, rendering, and bidirectional display order.

Google Noto Fonts provide 64 000 of the 136 755 characters defined in Unicode 10.0 which can be used for web as well as desktop applications. Even though 72 755 characters are missing, Noto supports most common languages in the world. Fonts can be downloaded here:

Since font size varies from language to language, a size that is readable in one language may be difficult to read in another. There is no ideal multilingual font size. Allowing for variable font size is the most appropriate way to provide a give a good user experience across languages and devices. One approach is to use separate language-specific style sheets and define specific styles for each language.

Right to Left languages such as Hebrew or Arabic create their own challenges. Designing packaging so that text can be flipped will accommodate these languages. Yet not everything can be flipped. Challenges arise with: Images, graphs (x– and y–axes are the same in all languages), music notation, clocks, video controls and timeline indicators.

Numerical data, such as calendar-related (startday of week, week numbers, date conventions), clock-related (24 hour vs 12 hour time) are handled differently not just from language to language, but culture to culture. On a website it is particularly important that nominal values are converted into local values. This contributes to a positive user experience.

Languages have their own sorting rules. For example, an alphabetical list of menu items, may not appear in the same order in different languages. Often, it is more appropriate to sort by function.

Texts that are embedded within images, create their own challenges, so these should be avoided. If they have to be used, SVG files support text that can be easily localized.

Icons may mean different things in different cultures. To avoid offensive icons it may be appropriate to use icons that are universally understood and accepted, but these don’t always exist. Unfortunately, images carry cultural baggage.

The Inderøy hydroponic vertical “farm” project, will undoubtedly be open source, with source information provided in a multi-language wiki. If nothing else, English and Norwegian. Many Swedes, as an example, would probably find it easier to translate from English into Swedish, than from Norwegian (especially New Norwegian) into Swedish. In Norway, English is understood by many, and many might consider it unnecessary to localize information into Norwegian. The English Proficiency Index (EPI) puts Norway in fourth place, behind the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden for non-native English proficiency. In 2017, Norway was one of only eight countries to receive the ‘very high’ proficiency rank. Throughout Europe, and the rest of the world, women are more proficient than men in English. The exception is Norway.

As this 2016 map below indicates, not all countries are equally proficient in English, and why localization is necessary.



Like health personal, such as doctors and nurses, and chaplains, teachers are not employed directly by Norwegian prisons. Instead prisons are assigned qualified upper secondary school teachers, employed by and supplied by the relevant county. In other words, prison administrators have no say in who does the teaching, nor in what is taught. However, they do have a say in who can be taught.

This separation ensures that we, as teachers, are not compromised by being part of a prison chain of command. In practical terms, this means that while prison guards, administrators, kitchen and cleaning staff, have keys to open gates so they can drive into the prison, we professionals have to ask permission, every day, to enter or leave the prison. Our status is somewhere between that of inmates and prison staff.

I always enjoyed prison teaching. Yes, we spend more time than the average teacher drinking coffee, and there is a need for a form for gallows humour that comes with the job. We also have greater freedom to innovate. We are not only engaged in transferring skills and knowledge, but in encouraging a change in attitude. For example, many inmates engage in risky activities, reckless driving comes to mind. Sometimes, that risk affects them directly, but often it involves an innocent third party. One inmate with HIV, for example, was jailed for two years because he  had unprotected sex with a series of women, who were unaware of his HIV status.

I spent a lot of time teaching inmates the fundamentals of ergonomics. It was one way to bring a discussion of risk into lessons. On one level, I wanted inmates to understand how society assesses risk, on another level I wanted them to reflect on their own risky behaviour, not by talking about a particular situation, but in more general terms.

Here are my lecture notes on risk, that I used for several years when teaching ergonomics.

Risk is the combination of probability and severity.

Living involves risk. At every turn something may happen that transforms the living you into a non-living you, or a healthy you into an incapacitated you, a damaged you or a worn (out) you.

Every day, you have to manage risk.

A risk is acceptable if it is understood and tolerated, usually because implementing an effective countermeasure is too expensive or difficult compared to expected losses.

A scenario is a pathway of events leading to failure.

A scenario has a probability between 1 and 0.

It is assigned a classification, based on the worst case severity of the end condition.

A system may have many potential failure scenarios.

Preliminary risk levels can be provided in a hazard analysis.

The validation, more precise prediction (verification) and acceptance of risk is determined in a risk assessment (analysis).

The main goal of both is to control or eliminate risk.

Managing risk involves six stages:

  1. Initiate an action plan
  2. Classify work activities
  3. Identify hazards
  4. Determine risk
  5. Evaluate associated risks
  6. Control risks

Action plan

Slightly harmful


Extremely harmful

Highly unlikely












Risk Level

Action & Timescale


No action required and no documentary records kept.


No additional controls are required. Consideration may be given to a more cost-effective solution or improvement that imposes no additional cost burden. Monitoring is required to ensure that the controls are maintained.


Efforts must be made to reduce the risk, but the costs of prevention should b e carefully measured and limited. Risk reduction measures should be implemented within a defined time period.

Where the moderate risk is associated with extremely harmful consequences, further assessment may be necessary to establish more precisely the likelihood of harm as a basis for determining the need for improved control measures.


Work must not be started or continued until the risk has been reduced. Considerable resources may have to be allocated to reduce the risk. Where the risk involves a work in progress, urgent action must be taken to allow work to resume.


Work must not be started or continued until the risk has been reduced. If risk reduction is not possible, then no work can be performed.

A hazard is a potential to cause harm, including death, ill health and injury, damage to property, plant, products or the environment, production losses or increased liabilities, conditions that either exists or doesn’t exist (probability is 1 or 0, respectively). It may exist alone, in combination with other hazards forming events, that become functional failures or mishaps.A hazard analysis is a first step risk assessment process. Its purpose is to identify different type of hazards.

Hazard identification

  • Comparative methods, such as checklists.
  • Mathematical methods, such as deviation analysis.
  • Failure logic, such as fault trees.

Hazard checklist

  • Slippery or uneven ground/surfaces.
  • Inadequate guard rails or hand rails on stairs;
  • Person slips/falls on the level.
  • Person falls from heights.
  • Tool, material, etc.,falls from heights.
  • Inadequate room dimensions.
  • Manual lifting/handling of tools, materials, etc.
  • Plant and machinery hazards from assembly, commissioning, operation, maintenance, modification, repair and dismantling.
  • Transportation hazards involving vehicles as well as walking.
  • Fire and explosion hazards.
  • Violence.
  • Inhaled substances.
  • Eye damage from substances or activities.
  • Skin damage from substances that come into contact with, or absorption through, skin.
  • Damage caused by ingesting substances.
  • Damage caused by harmful energies, including electricity, radiation, noise and vibration.
  • Work-related upper limb disorders resulting from frequently repeated tasks.
  • Inappropriate environments in terms of temperature and humidity.
  • Inappropriate lighting levels.

Qualitative or Subjective Risk Assessment invokes judgement, without benefit of specialist skills or complicated techniques.
Quantitative or Probabilistic Risk Assessment (QRA or PRA) requires calculations of two components of risk (R): the magnitude of the potential loss (L), and the probability (p) that the loss will occur.