Tesla Just Solved Solar Energy's Fugly Problem

The company’s new solar tiles are built right into your roof.

The company’s new solar tiles are built right into your roof.

In California, solar energy is already huge. The state’s 15,000 megawatts of solar—the equivalent of several nuclear power plants—can provide power to over 3 million homes. But not every state has California’s sky-high energy prices or its green-energy subsidies to push homeowners to install solar panels. Solar energy needs a user-friendly makeover to really take off elsewhere in America. And thanks to Tesla, that’s happening right now.

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3D-Printed Hyperelastic Bone Is Like Duct Tape For Bone Surgeons

Growing new bone where none existed before has never been easier.

Growing new bone where none existed before has never been easier.

Hyperelastic bone is a new artificial biomaterial that can be 3D-printed and implanted into the body, where it will eventually be replaced by real bone. It’s flexible and has a shelf-life of around a year, but even better it’s dead easy to use and doesn’t typically cause rejection by the host body.

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Where I stand today

(I promise this is one of the only two blog posts I will publish using primarily the first person.)

I am an activist, and technology and media are my favorite pretexts to start conversations about the core of our human experience. I love reflecting about concepts and their underlying ideologies, but asking teens whether they know someone who decided to untag themselves from a photo on Facebook is still my favorite way to ignite discussions on privacy.

I don’t believe in universal pedagogical statements about technology (I very much doubt everybody should learn to code), and part of my pride as an activist is in having developed a vision that allows me to be strategic about technology-based interventions. And yet nothing brings me more life than those epiphanic moments in tech workshops: the precise look (because I do think it is a look) that people get as they wrap their minds around the process.

I find it fascinating and challenging to be from a context where the dominant technology throughout my growth, the internet, permeates many of the central conversations in the public sphere. Attempts to address structures of power and inequality now look at the technological landscape as the ultimate opportunity to end history, maybe for real this time – and yet, upon digging, none of this feels new, nor particularly self-aware.

The mission that made me get up twelve years ago has matured, and it still makes me get up today. At age 14, it was about finding how I could use technology to make change. In my early twenties, about finding the affordances of media and technology to go beyond isolated events, building processes towards the world we wanted to see. Today, I want to be among those tracing the roadmaps for action to bring grassroots work to its ultimate consequences: improving the relationship between technology and society at the levels of infrastructure, policy, curriculum and public discourse.

How does work in digital literacies support youth development and what exactly should this work look like for each actor in the landscape? What are the participatory methodologies that best support knowledge creation and grassroots work? What are the values and judgements at stake in our discussions on privacy, security and surveillance? And, really, how can we talk about the ideologies underlying technology activism to stop seeing false opposites when we talk about freedom and protection, innovation and long-term development?

I was born and raised in Mexico, where I am privileged for my education, my professional circle, my sexual orientation, the color of my skin. I have a vision for the world I want to see, my consequent personal plan, and mentors and allies that constantly make my path easier than it was for them. Now I get to spend two years of my life reading, writing, thinking the thoughts I always wanted to think. So how can I make sure that, beyond intellectual stimulation, I can weave this richness into action?

I forgot to say: Hola! I’m Mariel Garcia-Montes, an incoming grad student in Comparative Media Studies, and a research assistant with Sasha Costanza-Chock at the Center for Civic Media at MIT. I will be occupying this blog for two years, and I am looking forward to seeing where all of us are standing – and where I will be standing two years from now. This (and other reasons I mention here) is why I wrote this post.

(Thanks to Rebecca Thorndike-Breeze from the MIT Writing and Communication Center for helping me improve this post. All the clear sentences and moments of perfect syntax are her fault; all the broken and unnecessarily complicated lines are mine.)

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All in Our Backyard – social justice in disaster response

One of the hardest lessons and ongoing challenges in digital disaster and humanitarian response is how to connect with a local population. While many digital response groups deal with this by waiting for official actors (like the affected nation’s government, or the United Nations) to activate them, this doesn’t always sit well with my political viewpoints. Some of these affected nations have governments which are not in power at the consent of the governed, and so to require their permission rankles my soul. But to jump in without request or context is also unacceptable. So what’s to be done? It’s from this perspective that I’ve been diving into how civics, disaster, and humanitarian tech overlap. And it’s from this perspective that I’ve been showing up to Bayview meetings for San Francisco city government’s Empowered Communities Program. ECP is working to create neighborhood hubs populated by members already active in their communities. Leaders in local churches, extended care facilities, schools, etc gather about once a month to share how they’ve been thinking about preparedness and to plan a tabletop exercise for their community. This tabletop exercise took place on October 20th in a local gymnasium.

The approach of ECP is generally crush-worthy and worth checking out, so I won’t dive into it too much here. In brief, it is aware of individual and organizational autonomy, of ambient participation, and of interconnectedness. It has various ways of engaging, encourages others to enroll in the program, and lightens everyone’s load in a crisis by lightening it in advance. I am truly a fan of the approach and the participants. It’s also possible to replicate in a distributed and federated way, which means digital groups like the ones I work with could support efforts in understood and strategic ways.

Here is what doesn’t necessarily show through in their website: how grounded in local needs and social justice these community members are. There is a recognition and responsibility to the vulnerable populations of the neighborhood. There is a deep awareness of what resources exist in the community, and of historical trends in removing those resources from a poor neighborhood in a time of crisis. We’ve had frank conversations about what they’ll do about debris, and how the Department of Public Works parking and storage in their neighborhood is suddenly a positive thing. About what to do with human waste, and what a great boon it will be to have the waste water plant in their neighborhood. The things that wealthier parts of the city have vetoed having near them because of noise, pollution, and ugliness (NIMBY, or “not in my back yard”) will make Bayview resilient. They’re preparing to take care of themselves, and then to take care of other neighborhoods.

There’s a plan in NYC now to knock on every. single. resident’s door in the next crisis. It’s an approach other cities might also consider. But it’s one which is nearly impossible to implement. Who is doing the knocking? What are they doing with the information they gain? ECP’s approach is to apply their own oxygen masks first, and then to check on their neighbors, to know what the local Hub can take care of and what is needed for external support. When/If a city employee comes knocking on their door, they can then speed up the process of getting aid to where it’s needed (“I’m ok, but Shelly up the street has our 7 disabled neighbors there and they need a wheelchair, medication, and no-sodium food.”)