Wednesday, December 23, 2009


I saw this sign on the train, and wondered what the effect is. The trains in Boston aren't particularly dirty, they're clean most of the time in fact. From time to time, there are newspapers or Dunkin' Donuts coffee cups or bags and other random items.

My hypothesis, is that most people keep the train clean, not because it is their tax dollars, but because they have a personal belief of the need to do so. These people were brought up to pick up after themselves. From time to time, accidents are bound to happen, a person might forget a coffee cup like they might forget a glove or a phone on the seat.  Given that I rarely see trash on the T (the Boston train system), there are a few reasons for this. One, as already said, people have a personal desire to keep the area clean. Two, people sometimes leave trash, and it is an honest accident. Three, people carelessly leave trash. The division between the a careless person and an honest accident is unknown to me, and I don't have much basis for deciding what the percentage of each might be.

Back to the sign. Who is it targeting? Is it thanking people who would have already picked up after themselves? Is it reminding people who are on the fence about whether or not to wait until the train station to dispose of something? Is it aimed at blatant litterers who might consider otherwise upon reading that their tax money is at work to pick up after them?

I don't think the last thought is the purpose of this sign. Any one who sees this sign, might see the tax dollars as money they've already spent. They're already getting taxed in many different forms, who is to say which one goes towards cleaning up the T, or how much. What is the chance that a publicly maintained clean T will result in lower taxes? (This was one of the immediate thoughts that was in my head when I first saw this sign)

I think there are opportunities to have a more directed and interesting sign in place of this one. It could impart a similar message, in a different form. One possibility is the exclusion of the sign all together.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

More Ads

Another T Station ad space buy out. This time by Macy's in the Downtown Crossing station. I wonder if ad spaces are getting cheaper or these large buy in's command a significant discount. I do appreciate the element of uniformity of seeing all the ads together (even if I don't care for the ads themselves).

Monday, December 21, 2009

Appropriate Tools

A Boston Public Works employee appropriates two screwdrivers to remove a street hatch. I am curious as to what the original designer thought might be used to open up such a hatch. Additionally, if new or old screwdrivers are used, and how such use effects durability. Finally, I am curious if this employee was shown this technique, or improvised it.

After removing the cover, he examined the hole for about 4-5 seconds, and then replaced the cover, by stomping it down with his foot.

Friday, December 18, 2009

First Snow

From the night of one of the first snowfalls this winter season in Cambridge.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Brussel Sprout Tower

This photo was taken a few weeks ago, and the stem was placed in a flower arranging base. When standing up, it looks something like a smoke plum. I had only recently seen brussel sprouts in this kind of arrangement over the past year. It is odd to think that I have been so out of touch with what something I ingest into my body looks like in its natural form. It is something of a leap of faith many people in urban areas take everyday with the various foods we eat and technologies we trust.

Friday, December 11, 2009


Just take the outbound train in the opposite of its intended direction, and you'll be able to find it. It's hard to argue against this kind of graffiti. (It has since been removed, I think they tagger used an expo marker)

Monday, December 7, 2009


This is a processing plant of Conoco Phillips Inc in California that can be viewed from an Amtrak train. The bright yellow mountain in the center of the photo is sulfur. It glows fluorescent in the middle of the day.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Mr. Daily Talk

Mr. Daily Talk (Alfred Sirleaf of Liberia, read more about him in this NY Times Article) talks to Erik Hersman, of Afrigadget, at Maker Faire Africa about how he crafts his chalkboard news.

Monday, November 30, 2009


This isn't where the Simpsons call home, but Springfield, MA is close enough for me now.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Konogo Market

A market in Konogo, Ghana. This place was pretty intense. And being a foreigner (among 10 others) we attracted a big crowd of people who were as interested in us, as we were in the them. Especially when some members of the group started purchasing cloth.

It's not always like this though, most every other day of the week is an empty space. Very similar to how a Farmer's Market in the US comes together and will be a different landscape the next day.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Energy Demand

Earlier this year, I participated in the SF to LA Aids Lifecycle. It was seven days of cycling with about 2000+ people, that meant camping in public parks every night. This photo was a common sight every night as everyone's energy starved gadgets searched for as much replenishment as the riders themselves. There is an opportunity here, as there are few affordable and well disseminated solutions to this problem.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Second Look

This is a street vendor's setup in Adum, a main section of downtown Kumasi, Ghana. I was impressed by the organization and stacking of all the items. Upon re-inspecting the photo, I found myself asking a number of questions that I had not thought of while in there. The first question, which leads me to to many others, is: does the vendor set this up every day? That prompts a number of other thoughts, such as the care and dedication that must be applied if it is set up everyday. The other option is equally compelling, because if it isn't set up everyday, who watches it every night? There is another alternative to watching it every night, which is that most everything is sold each day. In which, it is set up everyday with care and attention.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Street Conditions

This is what a typical street in Accra looks like. There are a numer of paved streets in the city, yes. In my experience in the city, more than 50% of the streets look like this. It makes simple things like traveling 5 miles by car take that much longer than someone from the States might think. Streets like this also results in more wear-and-tear on the cars (one driver of a Tro-Tro, taxi/bus, said that these vans last about 5 to 10 years because of the roads). Unpaved roads also makes the ride that much bumpier, and at some points a 2 car road narrows to a one car road because of street conditions.

This is something I never considered until arriving there and realizing it in person. I was told that in the 19402 the road from Whittier, California to Los Angeles was in similar conditions. Meaning a trip from the farm (yes, farm) to deliver produce to grocers was a 2 hour trip, rather than the 15 to 20 minute ride it can be today (ideally, over congestion has managed to expand the time this trip takes. Amazing what can happen over the course of time, and the cycle of objects moving through space.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Blanket Advertising

When I got to the T station this morning, Flip had bought out the entire Harvard Square Inbound station advertising banners. A few weeks ago, Adidas had done something similar (though they bought out the entire station). I really didn't care for the Adidas Ad, in fact, I found it offensive and was glad when their lease was up. These Flip Ads are going to make for some interesting mornings with their bright blues in the fairly muted subway. I've read that Apple may subsidize Chicago CTA's remodel, which won't be such a bad thing by my standards (I find the simplicity of Apple Ads bearable and preferable to alternatives). I am fine with these steps being taken for cities to continue to offer public transportation. Not sure what to do when the advertising is offensive as with the Adidas experience.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Obama Condoms

I bought the deluxe pack of three. Will share the photo later. It turns out, the girl selling these originally started out by buying three herself. Then after looking the condoms up online, found out she could become a seller, and the pay is quite good. It is an interesting market niche.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


While in Accra, Ghana I photographed this item, one of the most frightening things one can come across while walking barefoot on the beach. It didn't help that I went on a waste treatment tour the day before, only to watch thousands of gallons of fecal matter be emptied into the sea.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fire House

It was a crisp clear Autumn night.

Monday, November 9, 2009

South for the Winter

I filmed them because I don't see this everyday in where I'm originally from. It was my moment of zen for the weekend.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Sachet Water

Sachet water is a popular way to purchase water in Ghana, Africa (as well as other places in the world). It is a business for people to go around selling individually for as little as 5 pesewas (about 2 US cents). The companies who make and distribute these bags have interesting names like Girls Girls Water and pictured above Skywalker. The issue of what to do with the sachets is an issue. Many of them end up on the street littering the ground. In some places, the idea of items made from something other than naturally available, local materials is something new. It is cultural norm to throw toss these traditional items away on the floor, because their material and manufacture is not much of an issue for the environment. Plastic represents a material that doesn't behave in a way that culture has adapted to.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Tub Planter

Found on the streets of Williamsburg, New York. Re-use of multiple materials in a public space for a double take moment. I imagine it brings a fair amount of peace to the caretaker as well. Makes me rethink all those couches, loung chairs and cabinets left on the side of streets. What if they were turned into planters or other functional landscape elements as well?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Four Weeks Ago

Harvad Street, four weeks ago. The leaves have since fallen off, and the ground feels much colder because of the crisp air.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

In the Woods

Taken at the Arnold Arboretum in Forest Hills, Massachusetts.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Street Paving at Night

Street paving at night in Cambridge. The way the lights on the machine highlight particular aspects of the machine are something out of a space opera.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Everyday Items

Some of the everyday items from a bar keeper in Ghana, Africa. I enjoy the placement of the toothbrush next to the New Testament in the nesting spot of where this gentleman's daily ritual objects go. They lay on a shelf right next to his door, to the back of his bar. The bar itself has a about a 12' x 12' floor plan, and his serving space is only about 4' x 4' of that.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Tool vs Toy

I haven't posted in a while for various reasons. First, I was in Africa with extremely limited connection for two months. While posting was a job task by some standards, the difficulty of dealing with slow upload times and intermittent connections, hindered that to a few posts. Second, I moved into an apartment with no internet connection.

Now, there is internet at work. When I am at work, I have been quite good about using my time for work, including what I do on the internet. And I rarely stay later to browse the internet and stumble upon new things. As I sat here today, I realized, I wasn't treating the internet like a toy or with the casualness of play anymore. Not having access to it all the time, made it into a tool.

When resources are scarce, it is difficult to experiment and come up with innovative uses of them. On the other hand, scarcity does promote extorting as much as one came from resources available. This thought brought me back to my time in Africa, and some conversations I had with people about the digital divide. In its most extreme and simplified form, there are two poles that these resources will swing too. There will be zero innovation, as the cost of it is too high. The alternative is extreme innovation, as the cost of not doing so is high.

So, why do these observations matter? And what am I going to do about it? How am I going to turn insight into action?

Observing and participating in the digital divide in Africa made me realize the need for bricks and mortar institutions to exist. Information may exist on the web, but unless it is accessible, it doesn't really exist. So, I am now working on a plan to build appropriate technology workshops in developing nations.

Monday, August 31, 2009

IDDS 2009 Video

This is a video/slideshow of IDDS 2009, compiled from videos and photos taken during the event. It's meant to give people a rough idea of all the various aspects that make up the International Development Design Summit.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


20090712_AdumkromChief_017, originally uploaded by Chef Cooke.

IDDS had its first ever village visit (July 11-13), which has been appropriately described by others as an event within an event. The organizers of IDDS successfully coordinated for over 70 people to visit 10 rural villages around Ghana for three days to do hands on research for the current Design Challenges. Cheers to them, because it was an amazing and invaluable experience.

Along with nine other participants and trip leaders, I visited Adumkrom, as village of only 300 people, about an hour from Kumasi. The most amazing thing about the village was the night time. Lacking electricity, it was extremely dark, in a manner I have never experienced before. One could look to the sky and see stars that don't exist anymore in the Los Angeles or other light polluted city skylines. There were no light posts or porch lights, most people were in their houses and asleep by the time night fell. Some people had LED lights or kerosene lanterns, such as the shop on the main road that sold eggs, alcohol and bread into the night.

The three days spent at Adumkrom was packed with a combination of tourism and research. After an initial meeting with the Chief and his cabinet, the IDDS participants were greeted with open arms, and had the cooperation of the every village. Everyone I came across had a smile and was willing to help improve my Twi beyond saying hello and asking how they were. For the project I am working on at IDDS, Sean (a Rice De-stoning teammate) and myself were lucky enough to see a rice field, talk to the farmer in charge, watch someone remove the stones in a gold pan method, talk to various villagers about their eating habits, and visit the local town to see a rice mill and buy rice samples from the market. On the tourist side of the event, I saw many activities of the Adumkrom's occupants; cassava grating and pounding for fufu (a staple food), palm oil making, the local school, talking to the village pastor, hearing talking drums, learn about the process for making Gari (a porridge like item), meet the local Maker (inventor), attempt to pump water from the well, stir banku in a kettle, construct a bamboo roof segment and much more.

Writing all that down surprises me even now as to all that was accomplished in such a short time. I can't emphasis enough the power of just being in the place. Small realizations that were finally drilled into my head, such as the fact that cassava and plantain are the main staple in this region. There is no local supermarket to get out of season grapes, strawberries or berries. Walking around the village at (roughly) 4:30pm to see that over half the women are preparing cassava to make Fufu. I will hold this experience close to heart for a good amount of time to come.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Akwaaba! Welcome

With the exception of a few participants held up at airports, most everyone is now in Kumasi, Ghana for IDDS 2009. The past week has been crazy getting ready for everything, and the work is far from over. I could feel myself getting more excited with the arrival of most of the participants. It means meeting diverse and passionate people, working on fun projects, playing games, sharing meals and stories, and loads more.

Ghana so far has been interesting. I went to downtown Kumasi the other day. It reminds me of South East Asia, while being nothing like it. The sidewalks are packed with people go to and fro. One of the most amazing sights is how people carrying things on their heads. Not being from here, its surprises me every time to view the sense of balance Ghanaians have.

20090706_downtown_039, originally uploaded by Chef Cooke.

I visited the downtown area looking for supplies for IDDS, and spent a good 5 or 6 hours searching for a small list of items. An extension cord longer than 3 meters seems to be a rare (though not unavailable) item. If you can't find what you are looking for, its very acceptable to stop and ask just about anybody if they have an idea where you might find the local bike shop for example. It is quite refreshing to be asking anyone for assistance.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


Ghana has been amazing so far. Everyone is very kind, and whenever I walk anywhere, I stop and talk to at least ten people. The weather fluctuates between hot summer days and sudden heavy downpours. Building up to the rain, is a heave and muggy humidity that breaks with cool refreshing breezes only minutes before everything is saturated with wetness and wind. After which, cool air comes off the freshly watered ground. This makes for beautiful mornings that energize and inspire one to start the day.

While in Kumasi, I (and fellow IDDS organizers and participants) will be staying at the Tek Credit Union Hostel on the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology campus. It's a very large and seemingly diverse campus, with an interesting Ceramics program that I need to check out before leaving in two months. Getting ready for IDDS 2009 has been a non stop enjoyable job. From going into downtown Kumasi, to walking up and down five floors searching for a particular team member, or walking around the entire KNUST campus looking for an internet card.

I would love to upload some video of the place, because it describes so much. Unfortunately, the internet connection is too slow to accommodate video, so it shall have to wait until I return stateside. Until then, I have uploaded photos on my flickr account.

Also, check out the IDDS website, and Niall's blog documenting everyday of the summit with beautiful prose.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Going to Ghana

I leave at 5:25pm New York time today for Accra, Ghana Africa. To participate in IDDS (International Development Design Summit) 2009, working on technologies to aid people living on less than $1 a day. I will be blogging about it here on this site, and posting photos on flickr.

To get an idea of what happens at IDDS, here is my records form last years event IDDS 2008.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Worm Compost

I have been doing research on making a worm compost bin, and the following are the most interesting videos I've found on YouTube for both design and information.

This next one is just sure to give some small child nightmares. And also seems to be somewhat deceptive as to the ability of a compost bin.

I found this pedal power mulcher as part of a related subject.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Unplugging the Fridge

The NY Times has interesting article on Trashing the Fridge. Steve Kurutz, the writer, brings up the fact of eco-conscious people polarizing around giving up the fridge being a badge of commitment. He also brings up the argument that when considering the entire life-cycle (the food in the fridge, driving to the store, etc) around a refrigerator, they might be worth more than the convenience. 

Energy Star refrigerators use about $40 worth of energy a year, while a mini fridge uses $6, so other factors start to weigh in much more. One might be driving to the store more frequently to buy fresh food, and another is food packaging from purchasing smaller quantities. 

My own research shows that a bigger concern than energy, is the amount of food waste that gets disposed of in the average American home. Americans waste 14% of their food purchases, that is food that gets purchased and thrown away before it is consumed. That represents about $43 billion dollars nationally, and averages $590 for a four person family. Info from SoundVision.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Design A Day: Sponge Pillow

The sponge pillow would be great for going to sleep with wet hair. Theoretically, it would also absorb your dreams during the night, which you could then squeeze out the next day in a cup. And if you so choose, you could ingest your dreams to remember them again, or wash your hands with them to be done with confusing thoughts. The stand by of sponge designs is helping me out in this time of idea shortage. Like a faucet being turned... oh, that gives me an idea.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Design A Day: Smoking Watch

Using the cigarette as means to tell the passage of time. I enjoy watching the passage of time through the decay of something. I don't enjoy cigarettes though.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Design A Day: Sponge Bed

Another sponge idea. It would be good for hot climates, one could water the bed before going to sleep, and the evaporation would help to cool you down throughout the night.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Design A Day: Sprout Sponge

The Sprout Sponge is designed to have strategically placed openings to place seeds for sprouting. Sprouts are an excellent source of nutrition. With the Sprout Sponge, a person could purchase the seeds  in bulk and create a handful of seeds everyday by adding a little water to the sponge to supplement their diet in a natural means. (A sponge probably doesn't even have to be designed for this, you could go out and do this right now with a regular sponge).

Monday, January 12, 2009

Design A Day: Milkshake Tshirt

The concept for this t-shirt originates from the film There Will Be Blood. If you saw the movie, you understand. The straw that comes off the t-shirt can be sucked on to create the slurping sound of an empty glass, so that people around you know who gets the last drop.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Design A Day: Fire Prevention

This is to protect houses in Southern California from the seasonal brush fires. The heat from the fire triggers balloons to inflate in the house, lifting it up and away from the flames. The hotter the fire, the greater the inflation. Its a natural reactionary system, that will act in kind to the threat at hand.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Friday, January 2, 2009

Design A Day: Coffin Bookshelf

This one is a two for one. A Coffin Bookshelf will be the only bookshelf you need. It constantly reminds to carefully examine how much you possess, because you can't take it with you. It has a function of organizing the items you do end up owning. Then, at the end of your life, the coffin aspect becomes functional as all items are cleared and willed away to others, and you inhabit it. It's made of sustainably harvested douglas fir from Oregon.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Design A Day: Exacto Earrings

This is what I do with all my left over Exacto blades that don't give a clean edge while cutting foam core.